“100 camels for your wife!"

“Everything in moderation”. One of life’s great truisms. We all know that we can have too much of a good thing and political correctness is a good example. Of course we need to protect minorities from subjugation and second class treatment, and it’s important we don’t let a few PC zealots put us off the basic principle of respect and equality for everyone. If you want an example of how far we have come in the treatment of women, and how bad it could be, pop over to Egypt for a couple of days.My last cruise ship docked in Port Said for a couple of nights and after I brief spell in an Internet cafe one evening, I walked back to the ship to find myself a few paces behind two pretty young female passengers negotiating the dozens of pushy traders and the constant flow of jeers and lewd remarks they shouted at these poor girls. It was like the 1976 National UK Championships for Most Repugnant Builder of the Year.   

Tourist at large!

The girls were appalled and embarrassed and I was amazed at how acceptable it was these men to shamelessly intimidate these girls in this way. Before you accuse me of overreacting to a bit of “harmless male bravado”, you have to imagine the pretty base level of some of their remarks and gestures. 

The following day, I walked in to town another group of girls from the ship to find a spot for lunch. The best we found was an empty dining room on the seventh floor of a old hotel. A surly old woman asked us what we would like to eat. When we requested a menu she said, “Fried chicken, fried beef, fried pork, grilled chicken, grilled beef, grilled pork”. “Ah” said we, “perhaps we could have a look at the full menu?”, to which she repeated, only more sternly, “fried chicken, fried beef, fried pork, grilled chicken, grilled beef, grilled pork.” Two of us went for the beef and two plumped for a vegetarian option, which the manager assured us was “first class”. It was in fact a side plate of overcooked vegetables and a huge plate of hot dog style bread buns. I make the mistake of asking for a beer, then we left. 

On the way back to the ship I swear we were stared at by virtually ever man, many of whom shouted things like “beautiful ladies!” or “you’re a lucky man!” (to which I replied, “I know, they let me share their make-up.”) One guy rode his bike at perfect walking speed next to us for 200 yards staring at the girls and muttering God knows what under his breath.

Back at the market by the ship while the girls ran for cover one trader seeing my t-shirt with “Brasil” on the front got very excited. Our said conversation went like this

Trader: “Ah Brasil, such beautiful girls there, yes?" Me: “Yes. Very pretty girls in Brasil” Trader: “And such beautiful [insert size], [insert colour], [insert intimate body part]” Me: “Well, that’s a bit disgusting really isn’t it?” Pause... Trader: “Can I buy your hat?”

Of course many of the people we met were fun and very helpful, but their friendliness was marred by this shockingly sexist attitude.

On one of the tours we took, our female Muslim guide explained how she didn’t wear the hi-jab out of personal choice and that she enjoyed a drink every now and then and that that was a matter between her and God. The following day I mentioned this on another trip to a male tour guide who got very irate, told me that she was not a real Muslim and that if I gave him her name he would make sure she was “punished”. This was the same guy was later told me “of course I used to beat my wife, it’s normal” (I know it’s amazing, but I am only quoting exactly what he said). 

In further nuggets of marital bliss he told me that a man can only take a second wife under “exceptional circumstances”, which turned out to include where the wife does not satisfy the husband in bed. 

Interestingly though, it was his sole responsibility to provide for his family and his wife’s responsibility to look after the home and the children. The fact that she was also able to hold down a well paid, full time job, was her prerogative and he had no right to any of her income. At all. Expecting a financial contribution from his wife would make him “less of a man”.

Seeing other cultures at first hand is always fascinating and it’s easy to criticise others when they don’t fit within our ideas of “normal”. Nevertheless, it certainly seemed like a man’s world where the women’s rights were a long way behind those enjoyed by the fellas.