Beyond homesickness: Western wives in EgyptBeyond homesickness: Western wives in Egypt
With Karen's niqab (veil) covering up most of her face, you can still see bitterness in her eyes. You can hear resentment in her voice as she tells her story. She refuses to have her real name and nationality published, but she claims to speak on behalf of many Western women living in Egypt, married to, or divorced from, Egyptians. After converting to Islam, Karen moved to Egypt with a few other women who shared with her idealistic ideas about living in a Muslim-majority country. They were soon confronted with the reality about the people's "ignorance of Islam" and deviation from its teachings. Her first year as a foreigner on her own in Cairo was the most difficult. "I have never felt as lonely as I felt here in this city with 16 million people," she says. "Being a woman as well as a foreigner put me in a double disadvantage. It's a men's country, [where] men don't take women seriously ... and tend to take advantage of them." She decided she couldn't stay in Egypt unless married and she accepted a marriage offer by an Egyptian man, a decision that she regrets. "Marriage itself is difficult, cross-cultural marriage is more difficult, and when you don't understand the other's culture, you have a third degree of difficulty." Cultural differences resulted in her divorce. Egypt's culture, in Karen's opinion, is one of manipulation, not directness. "Egyptians are obsessed with covering their back. In the West we are direct because we have a system that covers us up." As a result, she says, "The [Egyptian] husband [of a Western woman] thinks, 'My wife is not respecting me' when all what she is doing is being direct." Cultural differences made Karen feel "oppressed" in her marriage: "The Western woman enters the relationship on a 50-50 basis, whereas men in Egypt tend to be brought up to feel they are superior to the girls in the family.