Having C here was great. Running around with such a fine specimen of masculinity, however, did make it more obvious that I was a second class citizen. Some men wouldn’t talk to a mere woman like me when there was a man available. In Islam men become ritually unclean through physical contact with women. I don’t see why this means they can’t talk to me. The tout who wanted us to hire his taxi and addressed ¾ of his conversation, despite it being wholly in Arabic, to C would have been amusing, except I find it harder to understand what people say if they stare into my habib’s eyes, not mine. I think the tout thought my refusal was unreasonable, and was therefore appealing to a nicely rational man. C, very annoyingly, made a lot of excuses and denied this dynamic for two and a half weeks before a man came up to us on a bus and chatted to C. The closest he came to acknowledging my existence was standing on my foot.
R and I were walking through Jermanna the other day when someone asked us ‘how much?’ R said something in Arabic, and unless it was in deep Swaida Ameya he didn’t say ‘for you, a good price,’ but again the man asked ‘ardesh?’ At this point I lost it.
‘Who’s a prostitute? You pikey animal! How am I a prostitute? You son of a prostitute!’ I yelled in Arabic. ‘I’m a student, you seller in the street of overpriced, poor quality goods.’
It’s hard to know who was more surprised, the wannabe punter or R.
‘O.’ R looked at me, ‘who taught you these words?’
‘Ibn Sharmoutas the name of one of the cats, H gave it to me. Hwain comes from the hairy one and D taught me the others.’
‘Did you make sentences?’
‘No. I remembered these words pretty easily, but I did write most of them down.’
‘One day, you will be good in Arabic. You are very good in these words. Fast, good lufzz…’
Animal is pretty much the worst thing you can say in Arabic, street seller of overpriced crap is all one word, and I may have used the plural of pikey. It’s the total extent of my ability to be non-sexually rude in Arabic.
Most of the time I don’t really notice that I’m a woman in a man’s world. All the foreigners here get stared at, alot and I often don’t notice when it is a sexual thing. P does, my good lufzz (pronunciation) of these words probably actually comes from him vocally defending my honour. It’s not wise for me to randomly make friends with men when I’m out or smoking argelia like the boys all do, but I’m not a massive fan of random people anyway. As a woman I do get to have a closer relationship with Syrian girls though, a whole word that’s shut of to the guys.
What annoys me, and it really annoys me, is the way men think they have a right to talk to me. The winter here was hard, but it’s often warm during the day now, and there’s a bit of spring in the air. H calls it ‘the month of the cats.’ men in the street step out in front of me and say, in a tone that expects compliance, ‘I want to talk to you’ or ‘I want to be your friend.’ As they’re stood in front of me I can’t really ignore them. ‘I don’t want to be your friend,’ I reply in Arabic and walk round them. ‘Why,’ they ask. My Arabic doesn’t extend to asking ‘what do you think gives you the right to demand an explanation of me? Who the hell do you think you are to presume you can just talk to me? Bugger off.’
It’s the assumption, implicit in the question ‘why,’ that their desire to talk to me overrides my desire to be left alone or to listen to music that angers me. It’s symptomatic of the relationship between men and women here. The sense of entitlement and superiority men have in their relationships with women.
People follow me, demanding ‘why won’t you talk to me?’ Syrian men are renowned for being pussies, its not really threatening, but these guys sense that they are justified in doing what ever they like is extremely unattractive.
There was no one around at 11.30 AM the other day in Jermanna when I walked to the cash point, and some how it was different. No one apart from two men on a motor bike, slowly idling along besides me. There’s not much pavement, but I pretty much managed to keep some parked cars between me and them. I could get a PHD in walking confidently while ignoring people, but that didn’t mean I liked it when, at the deserted junctions, they circled round me. Eventually I made it to the main road and lost them, but it did shake me up.
Jermaanas not the best neighbourhood and some horrible things have happened to women in it. Something like 8 women have been pulled into cars in broad daylight, raped and either murdered or tortured and abandoned in the countryside. When the police asked people why they didn’t intervene they said that they didn’t want to get involved, that they thought it was a family thing and therefore OK.
A friend is dating a girl who works in the justice department here. The above isn’t a rumour, it is fact. I’ve always assumed that, provided I don’t do anything stupid with sex or drugs I’ll be fine.
The problem is that people do sometimes assume I’m doing something stupid with sex*, or that I will do if they ask me enough. A taxi driver curb crawled me the other day, he started be telling me he’d drive me for no money, he ended up offering me money. Spring has its downsides, I’m telling you. Jermaana prostitution is an Iraqi thing, but there are Eastern European and Russian girls working in Cham. It’s important, as a woman, to establish that you do not come from Russia, ‘Ruski’ is one of many words that means prostitute here, but nowhere else.
People will say that it’s Jermaana that has the reputation for prostitution because it’s a Druze area the Druze have loose morals. This is just untrue, it’s because it has poor and desperate people in it. Besides, the Druze can be really conservative, R’s sisters barely allowed out, and he hopes she’ll get married soon although she’s 18 so she can have the greater freedom that comes with more responsibility. According to the woman who works in the justice department, Douma, a neighbourhood that’s name is used as shorthand for ‘extremely devout and traditional Muslims,’ has the highest rate of sexual abuse anyway.
R warned the other girls that there are some bad people in Jermaana. He thinks I can look after myself, he’s never said anything to me. I think that’s a complement.
* Unlike in Egypt people don’t attempt to sell me hash. Which is not to say it’s not available if you know who to ask. A significant number of language students think the worst that’ll happen is they’ll be deported. I think that A) they’re wrong and B) being deported would not be cool. One of my housemates goes to Turkey to smoke dope. He’s too scared of the mukhaberat to do it hear. A wise man in my opinion.