Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Climbing Mt. Sinai, chapter 4

Gender in the Sinai

After a few beautiful and spiritually uplifting posts about my time on Mt. Sinai, I need to interrupt with a standard Kati-gender-promotion commercial break.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not notice this until the very end of my trip. But the terrible truth did eventually hit me:

I only saw THREE women during my entire time in the Sinai.

(This is not counting tourists, most of whom were Russian, and a few conservatively dressed Arab Muslim women with their families. But even those were few.)

Two of the women I saw receptionists at the hotel in Sharm el Sheikh. This is a frighteningly small number, considering that the hotel had gobs and gobs of staff. Beach attendants, pool attendants, waiters and bartenders, shopkeepers, housekeeping, busboys in the restaurant, cooks and chefs, concierge staff, travel agency representatives, baristas... not a single lady among them.

Outside the hotel in Sharm was no better: taxi drivers, check-in at the airport, restaurant staff, storekeepers, street cleaners, you name it... all men.

When we caught the tour, naturally, our guide, driver and police escort were all men. (As an aside, I love how none of them actually climbed the mountain with us. What kind of a police escort sends us on our way up a mountain and says, 'have fun!'? Protection and monitoring of tourists is only ensured as long as no physical exertion is required. He was wearing a suit and dress shoes, too.)

The first thing that tipped me off to the decided lack of feminine influence was that the restroom attendants were all men. Usually, in most parts of the Arab world, cleaning the toilets, handing out TP, and claiming a coin from every tourist is one of the few areas where women can make a bit of profit off the tourism industry. Not on the Sinai. In the restrooms I used in the Sinai desert, I was handing my coins to men, which honestly is a bit awkward for a girl.

We climbed the mountain to the tune of dozens of bedouin men. Our tour guide handed us over to a fit young man who walked us up - very quickly, I might add. Dozens of groups of tourists warranted dozens of guides. In addition, there were coffee shops every 1-2 km along the trail, all managed by men, in some cases boys between the ages of 10 and manhood. On our way down, the bedouin presence was reinforced by boys hawking rocks along the trail (let's take another moment for an aside to consider the irony of buying rocks to carry while hiking - they were nice but not worth the weight).

Still no women.

Finally, after hiking up and hiking down, using the loo and eating breakfast, and an hour journaling and napping, we prepared to enter the monastery. From the monastery courtyard I saw a bedouin woman walking in the far-off distance, wearing a purple galabeya and with her head covered in a flowery scarf. The brightness of her outfit was a sight for sore eyes. The fact she was the first non-tourist woman I'd seen in such a long time was truly refreshing, even if it made the absence of women everywhere else that much more noticeable.

Then we entered the monastery. Even though it's named after a woman, this monastery boasts only 3 sisters, I think, in comparison with 20 monks. We didn't see any of those women either.


Bristol said...

Kati, I'm loving your reflections on your trip to Sinai! You're a fantastic story-teller. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

tinuviel said...

How interesting! Yes, male restroom attendants would be creepy-awkward.

Guess the scarcity of women there showed how special you are to brave the trip and the climb. What an experience! Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.

happygirl said...

Kati, Your Sinai story has been wonderful. I'm glad you shared the tidbit of lack of gender diversity. Thanks for the story and keep writing.

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