The Cairo Sex Diaries was inspired by New York Magazine’s long-standing Sex Diary column.
5:30 am Up super early to catch the bus to campus on the other side of town. I feel so tired—I haven’t been sleeping much since I’ve been working on a paper on Focault for a capstone class. As I curl out of bed, I reach for my sweatpants and a random clean shirt. My mom hates it when I dress like this, but I can’t be bothered to put in any more of an effort.
7.30 am Arriving on campus, I smoke a cigarette outside my 8:00 am Social Movements course and think about the theory we’ve been discussing in class lately. I honestly haven’t been focused as much as I should recently, cramming multiple assignments in the last minute and working through the middle of the night has really taken its toll on me.
12:45 pm Adequately caffeinated, I proofread the Focault paper off a laptop at the library one more time before submitting it. I take a short break to aimlessly swipe through Tinder after the first 30 minutes. I only use the app sparingly, usually when I’m far too bored, but it hasn’t led to anything more than small talk with a handful of mildly interesting characters. I’m estimating it has taken me over 2,000 swipes through Egyptian creeps to find those five seemingly decent guys in the couple of weeks since I’ve downloaded the app. I have yet to meet any of them in person though. Between classes and my long-ass commute every day, I don’t have much time for dating again yet.
3:30 pm I spot my ex-boyfriend from the corner of my eye walking a good few meters away from me as I head to the gym after my afternoon class. His bald head, those broad shoulders—although we’ve been separated for weeks, seeing him even another building away sends a chill down my spine. I continue pacing forth.
We broke up a month ago because he was your typical, controlling Arab guy. This is despite his upbringing in a Western European country—yes, even in possession of a superior passport, Egyptian men can be toxic assholes. I had slept with him (he was my first and only thus far) while we were away on a day trip to Ain El Sokhna for my eighteenth birthday a couple of months after we met, when the novelty of our relationship made him seem irresistible. Another couple of months later, he said he wanted to marry me and I declined. Something felt off and I told him I didn't want to make that kind of commitment until after I get my PhD. My dream of pursuing academia seemed so much more pertinent than having to sit down and map my life out with someone who might leave me when the love fades. He was a graduate student several years older than myself whose friends were all getting ready to have babies. Meanwhile, I still had ambitions I wanted to work on. He didn’t get it. Things went downhill from there…
6:00 pm The thoughts of my ex return as my workout ends and I get under the shower. I think of our loud fights, and how the tone of his voice shifted as he went from yelling to promising he would change. And I will admit that, often, I sadly think of how he aroused me as he touched me. I need to find someone else…maybe…even casually…
8:00 pm I fall asleep like a baby on the two-hour commute back home.
4:30 am I wake up when it’s still dark outside to the Azzaan calling for the morning prayers, with a tight, almost suffocating sensation in my chest. I try to close my eyes and calm myself back to sleep, but I remain irritant. I mutter a few prayers under my breath as my grandmother had taught me before her death. My grandparents, with whom we shared the same household, were both religious and I used to pray with them regularly until they passed months apart from each other last year. When I was in secondary school, I read the Quran frequently and volunteered with an Islamic-affiliated charity group during the weekends. But with the stresses of university and a traumatic first relationship, all of that faded. I'm not even sure what I believe in any more. I fast during Ramadan but it's merely out of habit, it doesn't have the same meaning to me that it once did. I guess I’ve gotten too caught up with serving my flesh.
5:15 am I decide that getting out of bed would be better use of my time than staring at the ceiling, so I do so and sit at my desk, checking my e-mail before I begin my morning routine. I think I'm apathetic about pretty much everything in life, except for my grades. That's the one thing that matters, getting good grades so I can pursue graduate studies somewhere prestigious. Everything else seems meaningless to me, and I often feel as though I am coasting through life as opposed to willfully and actively making decisions.
8:15 am I’m in the library, again, today working on research for a gender studies class. I’m deep into the archives of old newspapers looking for clips on Nabawiyya Musa when I spot one of the cute teaching assistants in our department from the corner of my eye, immersed in a thick anthology, the first couple of buttons on his shirt undone. Yum….
4:45 pm I chat with a colleague between my two afternoon classes. She just got back from volunteering with refugees in Greece earlier this year, a program I’m interested in taking up myself. We speak a bit about her experience there and my potential application process.
8:30 pm-12:30 pm No classes today. I wake up reasonably late and work on more research for my gender studies paper.
2:00 pm Restless and struggling to focus, as my second dose of caffeine for the day wears off, I decide that a change of scene would do me good. I head to a restaurant in the Downtown area. Perhaps turn-of-the-century architecture and a short drive before rush hour might inspire me…
3:00-3:45 pm Eating a heavenly plate of pasta with tomato sauce to a view of one of the area’s historical squares. Sometimes I wish I was born here seventy years ago, before everything turned to dust, when Egyptians were more cultured and kind, when simply showing my arms wouldn’t get me to be called names on the streets.
4:00pm-6:30pm Writing, editing, researching. Moving paragraphs around and restructuring. Learning more about the history of Egyptian feminism than I ever thought possible.
6:30-6:45pm I sip kiwi juice as I watch the streets get even more crowded than they were earlier in the afternoon. Recently, maybe in the past couple of years, I’ve grown more and more resentful of the typical Egyptian. They wear their tight clothes and call it a “hijab”, or a supposed symbol of modesty. They won’t cease their petty gossip, yet they pray and fast in Ramadan as if they never heard the Hadith condemning one speaking ill of another. They believe themselves superior over other cultures for washing their asses with a shatafa, when in fact they are lazier than those in any other society are.
I think I only became this critical and—as my ex liked to call it—allegedly “cynical” during the past few semesters, perhaps as I wrapped up my IB program in high school and began reading more widely, neglecting the teen fiction I was immersed in before. Something changes in your mind very, very deeply when you expose yourself to different ideas. Challenging myself, widening my horizons, learning more about philosophy or existentialism or atheism (although I remained a believer myself) or history or human rights, all built me into a more compassionate, thinking adult who can’t be easily confined.
I met my ex as this shift in my critique of the status quo started, as I became less of a follower like everyone else living in this country, when I was still an easy target for him. He wanted to find any Egyptian girl—as long as she was “bent nass”, whatever that meant—and, at the time, I was becoming increasingly open to any new experience, including sex and a committed relationship. As ugly as it turned out to be, I don’t regret it.
8:00pm-10:00pm Reading an essay on Nawal El-Saadawi, where she describes her horrifying experience of undergoing female genital mutilation as a child. Thankfully, it’s in English—reading this in Arabic, I know, would move me even more deeply. While I do write and read in English far more proficiently than in my native tongue, I find well-written Arabic to be far more emotionally gripping.
Egyptians hate Saadawi for the most ridiculous reasons. Because she has messy hair, is outspoken, or dares to challenge convention, while most women of her generation are expected to fit the stereotype of the docile housewife who grows to become the sweet grandmother. They can’t bear the thought of a woman who says what’s on her mind just as eloquently, and on far more pressing subjects, as more celebrated men.
7:30 am A school-friend studying overseas e-mails to say she’s worried because she can’t find me on social media. She’s one I used to Facebook a lot back before I deactivated it weeks ago, mainly to make sure my ex can’t find me online and after, easily offline.
The fights we had during the few months when things went downhill were ugly, where we yelled and cursed and it even turned physical a few times on his part. When I wouldn't answer his calls after, he'd track me down through friends or his guesses of where I could be hanging out, arrive with a massive bouquet of flowers in hand, and give me a long monologue promising he'd change.
I'm not sure why I kept going back to him for so long, but the final straw for me was when our fights got physical, to the point that my arms bruised, several times. Yet I will admit I was so emotionally attached to him that the thought of finding someone else in the future took me a lot of self-reflection. This breakup, I calmly met him one morning to say I never wanted to see him again, deactivated all my social media accounts right after, dyed my hair a bright red and cut it short so he would never recognize me at a distance, and I cut ties with our common friends. I sincerely hope he doesn't get to me this time, and if he does, I'll silently walk the other way.
I e-mail my friend back to say that I’m more than fine, that I recently made one of the best decisions of my life, and I can’t wait to tell her all about it on a Whatsapp or Viber call.
12:00 pm-5:00 pm Classes. Papers. Small talk with colleagues. Just another average day.
5:45 am I wake up with my entire body aching, sneezing nonstop, my face so red and warm I know I’ll never make it to class. Urgh.
7:15 am-1:15 pm In bed for the morning, watching Netflix mostly and whining to my mom when she walks in.
2:00pm-7:00pm Wrapping up more papers. Reading. Questioning. Thinking. More Saadawi. More of her horrifying account on FGM, which I find even more violent and scarring than rape. Recently, I began to feel that perhaps all forms of control constraining female sexuality are morally unacceptable. Brainwashing a generation of women into believing that they are worth little more than their hymen, when injustice and lies are a given, is merely a more updated—yet, on some level, equally damaging— ideological stance to cutting a part of their clits off.
I used to worry that it would be difficult to shake off the emotional attachment I had once I broke up with my now-ex, or that another partner might slut-shame me for not being a virgin anymore. But whatever might happen is far more bearable than being with someone who brought me down, who drained so much of my energy with the fights every single day, who only wanted to be with me so he could show his family that he found a rich girl from a conservative family willing to marry him.