TALES FROM AN EGYPTIAN HOUSEHOLD – THE DRIVER

Date posted: August 3, 2008


I do not know why I chose to share that particular incident with you; it is very personal, very embarrassing, and very disturbing. I am not sure how you will view me or what you will think of me now. Part of me wants to write a jolly piece on summer but a bigger part of me wants to write about my first encounter with sexual harassment. I am just a middle class Egyptian girl who, like many other girls, was taught to bury her head in the sand.

It all started and ended when I was nine – a chubby kid with braids in fifth grade. I went to the same school with my brother and my neighbor D, and our parents had this effective car pooling arrangement in place where my mom would drive the three of us to school in the morning and D's mother would pick us up after school. One day, my mom was not feeling well and called D's mom to see if she could take over her morning shift. D's mom said that the driver was available and could drop us off on time.

By the time the situation was handled, we were already 30 minutes late. Naturally, we arrived late to school. D and my brother got out of the car and headed to their classes, and I began crying. I feared the teacher and what she would say or do to me because I was late. Like the little kid that I was then, I reached out to the driver's hand and asked him in a low murmur to walk me to class and to apologize to the teacher on my behalf for the delay.

He did walk me to class and the teacher was quite understanding; I thanked him and blew him a kiss in the air in gratitude for saving my life. The day after we all went back to our daily routine with mom dropping us in the morning and D's mom picking us up in the afternoon. Days passed, the school year came to an end, and summer replaced the gray uniform with nice summer dresses, shorts, and t-shirts. I have always favored summer over any other season and that summer was no different.

One morning I put on a pink pair of shorts and a pink t-shirt with horizontal white stripes. I braided my hair to the sides of my head then into one braid in the middle of my back and I ran down the stairs to buy ice-cream from the supermarket across the street. I ate the ice-cream on my way back and hopped like a bunny up the stairs. We lived on the fourth floor and I ran into the driver between the first and second floors. Like a good kid I greeted him but before I could hop any further he grabbed me, pinned me to the wall, and poured his heart out: "I know that you love me. That day at school when you held my hand I knew that you loved me. I still remember the kiss you blew me in the air. I love you." And before I could say anything his mouth was allover my face – kissing and slobbering.

How did I feel? Disgusted! I wanted to scream but I had no voice. I wanted to push him away but I did not. I stood there like a statue and right before he began feeling me up a door on the third floor opened and he let go of me. We both ran in opposite directions on the stairs. I rang the bell and my mom opened the door. I wanted to cry. I wanted to wash my face that smelt of his saliva. I did neither. I looked at my mom and told her that the driver kissed me. I felt her firm grip on my wrist as she pulled me closer to her face. With one move she tossed and flipped me in one whole circle as her piercing eyes examined me. She wanted to see if the damage was more than a kiss. Once her fears rested, I was caught up in a tornado of her own creation. She was yelling and shouting as she accused me of encouraging him; she told me that I asked for it, that I enjoyed it, that I was happy when he was doing that, that I was a bad girl, and that I should be ashamed of myself. Instead of the tears that I wanted to shed I began laughing. Until today I do not know where that came from.

Next thing I know she woke my dad up and I could hear her telling him to call D's mom, D's dad, and to get that driver fired. I sat in my room as I heard dad call D's mom and I wanted to die. Now D and her whole family knew of my disgrace. Now everyone would laugh at me. I stayed in my room for what felt like an eternity. I neither wanted to get ice-cream nor to play with D. I dreaded the day school started again for fear of having to see D and her mom. I also avoided eating with the family. I wanted to avoid my mom's angry looks, my dad's "good girl" lessons, and my brother's smirk. I washed my face a lot but his slobber never went away.

The summer after, a guy felt me up in the pool … I said nothing. A few years later another guy groped me in the street … I still kept my mouth shut. In college a guy in a bus "did his thing" while looking at me … people did nothing and I pretended that I saw nothing. Most females were taught to avoid eye contact with their harasser, to keep their mouths shut when it is happening, and to stay quiet after it is over. In a shame society like ours put shame, honor, and guilt in one big bundle and tie it like a lead ball to the feet of any woman who has been harassed on the streets of Cairo. So here are the rules to dealing with sexual harassment: first, avoid it if you could, forget it if you would, and deny it if you should. 

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