Laura Lazzarino, from Argentina
Last January 2016, I visited Egypt. I was traveling with my boyfriend Juan, trying to get out of Marsa Matruh. Knowing that “modesty” was a big part of the culture, I was wearing more clothes than usual: light trousers, a dress, a scarf and a jacket. We hailed a taxi. Juan took the front seat, and I sat on the back one. The driver seemed nice. He drove us out of downtown while asking the regular questions: “Are you married?”, “Where are you from?”. As we kept on talking, I suddenly felt his hand on my knee. “Excuse me?” I said out loud, moving my leg, but he said something about a tool we didn’t totally understand. I hesitated for a moment. Was the guy trying to touch me while talking to my supposed-to-be husband, or was he just looking for something under my seat? Five minutes later, he tried to touch me again, this time grabbing my leg strongly. I yelled at him. Juan firmly asked him to stop the car, but he refused, so we opened the doors with the car still moving. When he finally pulled over and we took our stuff out, he got off and tried to convince us it had all been a terrible mistake. “I am a man of Allah”, he said, grabbing our arms and trying to convince us to finish the ride. I felt confused. Coming from South America, I am used to Latino “macho” culture. I thought that a woman with a guy was supposed to be untouchable, that nobody could molest a woman with her boyfriend because “she belongs to someone else”. Of course I don’t agree with that — we shouldn’t need a guy around to be respected─ but I used to take it as “the way things are”. Wasn’t the same in Egypt? I decided not to get in the car again. As the man kept on saying things about his god, Juan went to get his backpack out of the trunk. As I turned on the spot to pick up mine from the floor, I felt the guy’s hand grabbing my ass underneath my shirt. Unexpected, strongly, disgustingly. He clearly meant it and it shocked me. I screamed. Juan punched the guy on the face, as he insisted he was innocent, “a good Muslim” and a bunch of stupid arguments, then he got away in the car. I sat on the street not knowing what to do. I was really pissed off but I was also too afraid of Egypt’s sense of justice: If the driver goes to the police, what would the police do to Juan and myself? Will they be on our side or the driver’s side? Then I started worrying about something bigger: What would have happened if I was alone? I’ve been traveling for the last eight years, and I have been on my own many, many times. I had never felt threatened or needed to defend myself before. I had never felt helpless… Not in Latin America, not in India, not in the Balkans. Although the situation could have been worse, it broke something inside me. If I was angry at the man, I was even angrier at myself for my lack of reaction. I just froze. It took me weeks to forgive myself.
After that event, I asked Juan to wait for me at the door every time I went to a public toilet, or to a common shower in the hostel. I was afraid to be alone. I couldn’t walk on the street without staring at people’s hands because I feared they would touch me again. I also felt stupid: I tried to be respectful of the local culture , but that didn’t prevent me from harassment. I still feel powerless every time I remember that day.