I always remember this day when i was sitting on my computer three years ago, talking to my ex-girlfriend who had just arrived in the Swedish city of Götheborg few days earlier coming from Cairo. She was so happy telling me about something incredible that had happened to her, she just couldn’t believe earlier that this could be happening. She told me that after she decided to go out for a walk in the Swedish streets alone for first time since she arrived, she was surprised when she realized that no one tried to harass or assault her for the first time in her life. For her as a young girl who grew up and raised in the capital city of Egypt, sexual assaults and harassments is something happening on a daily basis for every individual woman.
Before she told me this story, I was so worried for her as she was uncertain about staying in Sweden and she used to tell me from the first day she arrived that she missed Egypt and she might go back as she think that her struggle for women’s rights and equality should take place in Egypt regardless any price she would pay – a thing which made me much more concerned about her since she got death threats and had been kidnapped, chased and reported to the authority after she published a nude photo of herself online. But after she told me this story and after I felt from her tone of voice that she had found something unique, precious and priceless in Sweden that she could not find in her home country, I felt like a heavy burden just fell from my shoulders. The thing I assume she found and later made her decide to stay in Sweden, is that she felt she had dignity and as a woman she is safe and secured, which is things she might never think of how might feel like before she took her first few steps alone in the Swedish streets.
This conversation just jumped in my head right after an incident happened with me here in Bergen where I moved and have lived for over two years, and that made me start questioning my previous thoughts and think if really women in the Scandinavian countries still feel safe and secured as my ex-girlfriend felt upon her arrival there, or if something might have changed recently?
Last wednesday I had a meeting in the center of the city with a Amnesty Student group of Bergen. After the meeting I found that the weather was perfect for a walk; no rain, no ice or snow on the ground, no strong winds and most important is that I can stare at some stars and see the half-moon as the sky is not that cloudy. So I decided to walk around Nordnes, sit a bit opposing the sea, looking at the lights coming out from the houses of Askøy Island on the other side of the water and then go home. I put on my earphone and played my favorite Katie Melua songs on my MP3 Player and started walking as I had planned.
It was too dark when I started approaching the shore of Nordnes, but I managed to see my way. There was almost nobody there or at least I didn’t see many people apart from someone jogging around.
My walking rhythm is too fast, but I enjoy walking that way and I feel like I am flying not just walking, especially when I listen to my favorite songs. I usually walk for long distances without getting tired, sometimes I do 24 Kilometers fast walk a day, and usually when I walk fast it’s difficult for me to control or slow my walking rhythm if its not really needed. Thats why crowded areas are not my favorites and I always do my best to avoid places where there are too much people concentrated, and since I was just alone enjoying my time it felt okay. I sat on one of those stone seats opposing the sea enjoying a combination of fresh air with the pure, lovely voice of Katie Melua. I tried to take some photos using my mobile camera, but there was not much my camera could see and catch to keep on its memory in this darkness, apart from some shaky lights that came from the houses of the Island.
After I filled my lungs with a satisfying amount of sea’s fresh air and after my nose struggled a bit to relate some sea smell to the amazing smell of Alexandria’s sea which i was addicted to, I decided to go home.
I stood up walking the opposite direction on the same fast walking rhythm. On my way back and when I was leaving the Nordnes area toward the city center in order to catch my bus, there was a person wandering about and ‘they’ was far away ‘about 2oo meters’ from me. I kept walking and then this person turn round and saw me coming to ‘their’ direction, but I didn’t see ‘their’ face clearly. Then ‘they’ started walking very fast as if there was someone chasing ‘them’. After a while I realized that the person was a woman and from her way of walking I guess she was stressed and terrified and then she started running too fast as if there is a starving lion trying to catch her!
I felt terrible when it happened and my inner peace of the whole day was finally ruined.
The woman was running because she didn’t feel safe here in Norway just because she is a woman. While me, who is a foreigner and relatively new in this continent feel much more safer than her while I`m walking in very dark areas. I didn’t dare to walk in a similar areas when I was living in Egypt just because i am a man!
Of course I also felt horrible because she thought I ‘who never thought at any moment of his life to disturb anybody by his existence, nor harming people by any means’ might do something horrible to her. Of course, she don’t know me and most probably she didn’t see my face and that I was just like a ghost in her mind, but I really feel sorry for her that she got scared and terrified because I was walking around, she might be sitting now in her home imagining horrible scenarios about what this ghost wearing a red jacket might have done if he got much closer to her.
The most horrible and most sad part in this story is that when I think about it happening here in Norway, not in Egypt for example as I was always thinking of Norway as safe for all living and nonliving organisms, and now I have to compare it to Egypt where I escaped from! What the fuck!
In Egypt, as I mentioned earlier, women do not feel its safe to walk in the streets even during the daylight, and of course it get much more dangerous if they walked at night. But we are not in Egypt, we are in Norway! How could it happen that women feel terrified walking in their streets? And what have happened in the Norwegian society that led this woman to run so fast as a sign of feeling unsafe? Many questions that opened up in my head seems to have no answers, but honestly it has some answers which some people prefer not to hear because they like to go around blindfolded, better to avoid being accused of racism!
Yes, I forgot to mention that after my ex-girlfriend made the decision to stay in Sweden and after she applied for asylum there and stayed in a refugee camp nearby Götheborg waiting for the immigration authority decision for her case, her feeling of being completely safe from harassment and assaults decreased a bit. Not because the swedish men removed a mask they was wearing to hide an ugly face and reality she didn’t see before, but because the other asylum seekers who was staying at this refugee camp and who were mostly coming from some middle eastern countries started harassing her as they found out that she was staying alone and had no family there, so they thought she was an easy target.
That also happened in the school where she was attending swedish language lessons together with other immigrants. One of them was a Syrian refugee, who came to the country with his wife and children, and he tried to approach her sexually through Facebook, she took a screenshots of those messages he sent to her and forwarded it to his wife who reacted negatively to it. I guess what I referred to earlier is clear now, and since I am not a “white man”, no one can dare to accuse me of racism as its used to be an exclusive thing that goes only for whites! Well, I don’t care even if they did, and if talking about the facts which everybody can see clearly meaning that I am racist, so as I said before about Islamophobia, it would be also something to be proud of!
When the public deal with the serious problems related to muslims in Europe, many nice words and compliment are just too easy to be said, many smiles on faces are also much easier to be drawn and many serious issues are also much more easier to be underestimated and/or completely neglected. But everybody should be aware of the fact that the outcome of all those smiles, compliments and neglecting of serious issues will not be much easier to handle when the things get much more complicated.
In the end this woman’s day got definitely ruined and so was mine. I feel sorry for her and for myself too, and I just hope that she might read those words now and that it might give her a little bit of peace and make her feel a bit as safe in her country as I do, because its really unfair if I can climb the Fløyen mountain in a dark night holding no fear inside while a native norwegian woman ’I assume’ can not feel the same in the center of her city at the same time.
Few months ago and after some women rights activists made videos in several western cities showing how many people harassing them during a certain time of walk, I talked with a norwegian friend. She is a feminist and I suggested that we may try to make the same social experiment here in Bergen, she reacted by saying no, and said that she don’t think we have much harassment and assaults targeting women in our city and that I have to forget about it. Well, after the incident I just wrote about here, I think its the right time to make a such social experiment in Bergen and in other Norwegian cities. Anyone who would take the lead and show us how many harassers wandering around in the streets our little beautiful country?