Stories from Afar & Up Close

Sometimes I wish I was invisible

Yesterday a friend (Egyptian, woman, veiled, in her twenties) told me she doesn’t know if she could live in Europe or the USA because she’s afraid she’ll stand out too much. I told her there are many areas of Amsterdam where she’ll stand out less than I do here. Yes, she said, but you are white, so standing out here only gets you better treatment, isn’t it? White people always get treated better in Egypt, right?


Well, I said. Sometimes we do, but sometimes we don’t. On the benign side of it, standing out means I always get overcharged. A lot, and shamelessly. I get pointed at, whispered about, and stared at, always and everywhere.
On the more vicious side, I get stones thrown at me. I get punched in the stomach. I have had supposedly feminist Egyptian women tell me that it’s less bad when a white woman gets raped, because she has sex all the time anyway.

My friend was shocked. Why do I never hear about this? She asked.

I don’t know.

Part of it is the knowledge that I do have it better (at least financially) than most Egyptians. Part of it is the fact that other people who stand out face worse as a result of their difference. And part of it is the ultimate argument: then why don’t you leave. The hideousness of this argument is that it presents the consequences of standing out as being my choice. I choose to live in Egypt = I choose to live with people spitting and screaming at me for my skin color. This is not true, and comes dangerously close to victim-blaming. The truth in this argument is that the difference is indeed that I can leave, even if I don’t want to, and many others can’t. So ultimately, I won’t complain, but I would love to have a chance to be invisible sometimes.