Being American has never really been one of the first ways that I would describe myself. In the states, I’m a student and a Californian, among many other things. Here, being an American female identifies me more than it ever has before.
Example A: This past weekend, one of my classes went on a field trip to check out some archeological sites (more on that later!). About 25 American students took a chartered bus to Tanis and Zaq-a-Ziq, which resulted in about 6 total hours on the road. Instead of just traveling to the sites like any other group of tourists, we had a police car, motorcycle, and an armed guard with us for the entire day. And that’s not all- the car drove with its siren on for most of the time, forcing everyone on the street to clear out and wait for us to pass through. I was completely embarrassed. The fact that people had to stop what they were doing just so that our group of Americans could go about its little sightseeing trip was ridiculous. A few young kids got excited and waved, but the older adults often looked annoyed and confused. I ended up closing the curtains on my window for most of the way.
Example B: Soccer (a.k.a. football) is huge here. In addition to the national team (nicknamed The Pharaohs), there are a few smaller club teams that play amongst themselves. These include Zamalek, Al-Ahly, and Ismaily. A few friends and I have been trying to go to a game for a few weeks now, and had heard about a small Al-Ahly game on the 27th. A group of Egyptian boys went to go get tickets, so we asked them to pick some up for us (four girls and one boy) as well. We were quickly shot down, as the boys attempted to explain to me that our presence would be a bad idea. Apparently the games are extremely rowdy and dangerous, especially the smaller ones where there is less security and more loyal fans. So, women, and especially American women, are a big no-no. In this case, my identity was a threat to my safety. I retold this story to a Palestinian friend, who stopped me before I had even finished the story to tell me not to go to the game.
Example C: At the beginning of each chapter in my Arabic class, our professor, Halla, will ask various students in the class questions using the new vocabulary. One of the vocabulary words this week was “freedom”. Halla asked one of the American girls in the class if she has freedom. The girl responded in Arabic, saying yes, always. Hala continued to ask the other Americans in the room the same question, and we all responded with the same answer. I didn’t even think about the meaning of this, until Hala casually said, “I do not always have freedom.” It was a small, but shocking statement. I had not even thought twice before answering the question, which just goes to show what I take for granted.
Living as an American outside of the context of the US has provided countless examples like this. They range from silly, like having people shout things at us from the street (most commonly “Howdy”, “Obama”, and “Welcome to Alaska”, strangely enough) to shocking (at the Pyramids, Alex told his camel guide that he was Australian, to which the guide responded, “Why are you hanging out with these Americans? Don’t you know how many people Bush killed?”). It’s a lot to take in at times. As an international student, I was always aware of the fact that I am representing my country. I am just starting to realize how my nationality, in turn, is representing me.