How experiences abroad impact my self-awareness
Contrary to my last postcard from Cairo, this time I will share some of my negative experiences in Egypt and Jordan. However, before you start to read this journal, I want to clarify that other than good people, there are rude people with bad behavior existing in all countries, not just in either Egypt and Jordan. I also believe that judging a country only by its negative side is ignorant. Hence, I hope this journal will give us more thoughts on self-awareness of our identity instead of judgment.
When I was in Cairo, kids seemed to be curious about me because I might have been the first East Asian that they had encountered in their life. At least five groups of children asked me for pictures when I was at the Egyptian Museum, which was also the first time in my life being asked for pictures because of my identity. I was completely comfortable saying yes to their requests at first.
On the contrary, a Polish lady whom I met in my hotel responded in a different way. She told me that she had felt uncomfortable on her first day in Egypt since she didn’t wear a hijab and got lots of attention from the locals—such as a request for pictures and stares, same as I had. She decided to dress like a local with hijab on her second day travelling there. I didn’t understand her response until I had a bad experience with the children who asked me for pictures at the Saladin Citadel of Cairo. As usual, the kids requested me for pictures with respect. When I was about to leave the citadel, five more kids came up to me for pictures. At first, I was hesitant to accede because of their shabby appearance, but then I convinced myself with the morality of not judging others by their looks. And while I was taking pictures with them, I slowly realized that this was a bad decision because they were moochers. They not only harassed me for money, but also touched my private parts when taking pictures. This was the first harassment that I had ever experienced in my life and I was deeply shocked by it. I understood why the Polish lady had responded by wearing the hijab.
Coincidentally, I encountered another unsavoury incident in Amman as well. After visiting the Roman theater with my parents, who spent Chinese New Year outside China for the first time, we were waiting for an Uber in downtown Amman. With my parents standing right beside me, a man came up behind me and pulled my hair. When I turned back to look, he whistled and made provocative facial gestures, apparently oblivious of how offensive his action was. I lost my temper, and just as I was about to go up to him and punch him, my parents pulled me back, concerned and worried about getting into more trouble. For us foreigners, harassment without financial or mental loss can always leave us in the down-side of any external protection. Thus, my parents and friends suggested that I wear the hijab or niqab to conceal my identity and protect myself.
Personally, I prefer to reveal my identity confidently and engage in new circumstances as the real me instead of covering it up. Although the result of going along with this choice is going to be tough and may continue with different kinds of harassment, I still want to believe that most people I encounter here are open-minded and respectful to different identities.
Each week, Globalists will publish Postcards from Syracuse University students exploring other parts of the world. Franziska Liu, a junior studying international relations and Middle Eastern studies, will be one of four contributors this semester.