Monday, February 27, 2006

blank stares

Egyptian women have a way of walking, a way of looking, that seems to (for the most part) keep the men at bay. I can tell I have adopted this way of moving about in public, because i haven't been actually touched in a couple of months now. (I hope it stays that way...knock-on-wood, insha'allah, etc.) Also, the number of obscene comments has been lower than it was before. All of this is good, except:

today I saw the look on a woman's face as I passed her. Normally I don't look at people's faces, because eye contact = an invitation to harassment. But I saw this woman's face, and what I saw there was...


She had a completely blank, basically unfocused stare, straight ahead (not turning to the right or to the left) and yet at the ground--a stare that didn't make eye contact with anyone, didn't welcome anyone, didn't express anything, and yet was likely taking in everything around her.

I know that I too walk around with this stare, even when I have my sunglasses on. Last tuesday I nearly walked right past a friend--who I wasn't expecting, obviously--on the Metro platform. It wasn't until he called me by name that I turned my head or moved my eyes. Sometimes I catch myself doing it at school--a safe place staffed by women and attended by girls, a place where I should be making eye contact because these are my students and my colleagues!--or even at home, of all places. I also found myself doing it in Italy. I walked straight by people on the sidewalk, not listening, not looking, basically being completely indifferent to all the people around me.

And this makes me wonder--how long will it take before I am not like that anymore? Will this element of fitting into the culture wear off? I don't like acting indifferent to people, pretending they aren't there, acting like all these other children of God either don't exist or are so awful they need to be ignored. And yet it seems necessary here. What's the deal?

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