Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage  banner


An Egyptian Wife Acquired and a Dream Fulfilled

By Ryan Harper

      Before the moment of my departure at the beginning of this adventure around the globe I remember hearing my mother’s last words as she attempted to seem cheerful despite her strong emotional urges, “Don’t forget to bring me home that Egyptian wife Harper!!” I acknowledged her humorously sly comment at that moment but had no real intentions nor any idea that her wish would become fulfilled as it did on my last night in Egypt.
      The sun was setting over the harbor in Alexandria when Evan, Brent and I met two young Egyptian girls who were both around 19 years old and very eager to chat and show a few Western boys around town that Valentine’s Day evening. We bought them roses from an elderly woman o
n the street and then we made our way to their “favorite place to eat” where they insisted to go in and order for us because otherwise we would have paid far too much. As we sat at a park bench and ate our falafels I mentioned my mother’s last request before my departure, and within minutes I found one that one of the Egyptian girls was willing to accept my marriage proposal! After which Brent followed suit and was also awarded a yes response to the same question and from then until the time we had to return to the ship for disembarkation we all played along with our superficial engagement.
      It was very interesting to observe their excitement at what appeared to be a much different situation
than they were used to, in that they were often able to play the role of the person in charge over the course of the evening. This is always the male’s role in Muslim societies, however we were forced to play the more or less submissive role rather than aggressive one simply because we did not know where we were nor what we were doing while we were there. A similar scenario regarding the male dominated Muslim society is discussed in an article entitled “Ethical Considerations in Anthropology and Archaeology, or Relativism and Justice for All” in which Marrilee H. Salmon describes female circumcision as a repressive force and states that “women in cultures that practice genital mutilation claim that is done for the benefit of the men, but women alone are responsible for arranging and performing the operations.” The oppression represented through this painful procedure performed for no reason other than to provide satisfaction for the males is an example of the type of cultural norms present within the Egyptian society and helps to understand why we possibly seemed rather appealing to the women we met because of our easy going and passive behavior.

      Whether it was the way they protected us when we crossed the busy Egyptian streets or the way they insisted on buying us sodas at the grocery store, there was certainly a general consensus among Brent, Evan and I that we were being looked after as though we were the submissive people in the relationship and this seemed to please the two girls very much. The girls described most Egyptian men in a negative manner and stated that they were all liars who are only interested in physical connections, which certainly might have contributed to their admiration for us as well.
      We followed them to their “favorite place” which ended up being a mall which was quite a distance from our prior location near the port so that they could show us what they enjoy doing, which was shopping, and it was in the parking lot where we took pictures together and exchanged gifts and “love notes” to help signify our engagements. Although cultural norms prevented us from being allowed to hug our new wives goodbye after they escorted us back to the port to make sure we made it alright, it was very clear that a significant connection was made between the three of us American boys and these two Egyptian women which not only crossed physical borders but cultural barriers as well.

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