I was nervous before the beginning of my stay in Egypt. This is because I kept on wondering what would await me as a person that would be in the deep minority—woman, Christian and most conspicuously, black.
Looking back, I can sum up the following as part of my experience as a black girl in Egypt.
1. Many stares and awkward encounters
I was at the centre of [unwanted] attention for my entire stay. People stared at me everywhere. Especially in the women’s cabin of the metro where stares further accompanied by whispers. Some people took pictures of me, lining up each member of their family for individual shots.
Vendors would literally drop what they were doing if I walked by and stared until I was out of sight. Other encounters include people touching my hair. A child actually once inspected my braids one by one in fascination and yanked them really hard when she was done—which I speculate was because she wanted to prove that it was my actual hair.
Another time someone shouted at me as I walked at the top of his voice, “I LOVE YOOOOUU”. The most awkward moment was when a man followed me in his car at walking speed that took no notice of my attempts to ignore him. I eventually had to hide in a shop.
2. I acquired a number of nicknames
Michelle Obama, Chocolate, Sudan, names of famous black footballers and the name I hated the most, Brown Sugar.
Usually I just tried to ignore the person giving me the nickname, except if someone called me brown sugar. I would just hiss, “Don’t call me that.”
3. I was very insecure initially, but I eventually overcame it
I was very self-conscious during my first few weeks. If someone spoke in Arabic, which was all the time, I would always assume they are speaking ill of me. Eventually I took up the challenge of seeking adventures on my own.
I learnt how to use public transport, went to shows, concerts, galleries, famous mosques, Coptic mass and the opera. Sometimes I’d just go out and wander on the streets and stop at bookshops or discover new places to eat.
I always dressed my best (people were staring anyway so I may as well give them something proper to look at) and with time I became comfortable in my own skin again.
4.Egyptians are actually very nice
Broadly speaking, Egyptians were marvelously nice to me.
Airport security offered to help me with my bags as soon as I landed. People were always helpful. This includes random strangers that offered to stand with me and keep me company until my Uber arrived so that I feel safe. I also recall one day when I was lost and alone two girls called their elder brother who held my hand to the metro station from where I would make my way back. My colleagues at work were always generous and made sure I was as confident as possible.
One girl helped me find an art gallery I was looking for despite getting late for her ballet class (she was shocked that I made my way alone using the metro and I felt pleased with myself). I made many new friends who always went out of their way to show me around and ensured I was having the best experience.
5.It comes with perks
Free candy at the shop and everyone being extra nice were the perks I enjoyed that I wouldn’t get back home. Typically a conversation with a stranger would start with, “Where are you from?” and end with “Welcome to Egypt.” Someone mentioning, “Wow, your hair is so beautiful,” or a kind stranger offering to pay for my metro ride just to feel welcome sounds trivial, but they actually made me feel very nice and welcome.
6. It’s a chance to address stereotypes
It was a chance for people to know more about where I’m from and challenge different stereotypes concerning it. My country is in East Africa, no, we don’t speak French, the main occupation available to us is not lion-taming, we don’t all die of hunger and by the way, it’s not war torn.
So, is Egypt racist?
No, based on what I experienced. I did not endure any form of malice and was generally treated very well. I formed many friendships which I’ll always cherish. It’s always important not to be scared to visit a place based on what people tell you they’ve heard of it.
For #FEATURED FRIDAY, Ruby Nyaoro still insists people have no bios!