One year ago I hoped to do My World Project in Luxor, Egypt.
Then some crazy things happened.
Like the pandemic, yes.
Like, an amazing, brave woman who was to become a wonderful friend, Gitte, having her life threatened and being dragged to the police station on numerous occasions in the middle of the night.
Not to mention the worst night when men surrounded her villa threatening to break in and take it by force. I was staying with Gitte and it was a defining moment where I had to decide whether to cower inside and wait for the inevitable, or walk up to the gates and confront those men. You can guess what I did….
Okay I will tell you. I walked up to the gate. What happened next is too much for this short post…that is getting longer by the minute!
Oh no, wait, the worst part was the morning we were finally supposed to get on a plane and “get out of Dodge” as they say, only to find Gitte in the taxi surrounded by an angry mob of men trying to pull her out of the car, refusing to let her leave.
It all started last March. All because Gitte decided to sell her villa, opening a Pandora’s box of intrigue worthy of an Agatha Christie novel. Numerous shady characters coveted that villa, all of whom felt justified in trying to take it from her by deceit and if that didn’t work, then by force.
And as one of the men told me, “This is our right!”Actually,
I should add here that the MOST miraculous thing was that she even owned her villa. Since 99 percent of the women who buy property here find out it’s all a scam and they actually own nothing. So kudos to Gitte for being so shrewd.
Selling and actually getting payment for it was another matter.
Through it all, I fought by Gitte’s side . And I can say, she is one badass woman who never gave up.
At one point the Mafioso real estate guy ominously told her, “I cannot be responsible for what will happen to you,” and I said, “Like what, she could end up dead?” And he looked at me with his big expressive eyes and nodded and shrugged. At which point Gitte declared, “I don’t care if I end up dead, I’m never giving it away!”
Because that’s what they thought. She should just give her villa away.
Many was the night we sat by the Nile nursing a bottle of very bad red wine, shaking our heads while ruminating how “We’re never getting out of here alive.”
And yet, what an adventure it was. When I think I could have been stuck in lockdown in the USA instead of riding my bike almost daily to the Valley of the Kings… okay, sometimes passed by a few horrible fellows, squished three on a motorbike, cursing and making obscene gestures, but no matter! I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!
Folks, when I talk about freedom of speech for all, these are not empty words for me. I stand by what I believe, for the rights of everyone, even if I disagree with them. Many have encouraged me to write about this Luxor experience (which includes more of my own story, not included here) while others say, “Oh Karen, please, just don’t talk about those things, they are so unpleasant. Focus on the positive.”
What I say is: what could be more positive than the freedom of living without the dominance of fear? I know very well how fear works. I have been bullied—who hasn’t? I have been beaten for saying “no” to a man. (long ago and since then have become a full contact boxer and kickboxer) I have stood against a pretty powerful board of directors by refusing to be bought off or cowed into signing a non-disclosure agreement, which would have taken away my voice–and as a writer, nothing is more important to me than my voice.
Therefore, when I see bullies smacking others just because they think those others are weaker or dumber or less righteous and so “deserve it,” I can’t stay quiet.
It really came to the forefront and tested me in Luxor. There, I had the opportunity to witness within a small community how dangerous life can become when only one narrative is allowed and you better conform, or else. As long as everyone DOES conform, great, life can look lovely. But the minute someone challenges it, as Giite did, that person is resented, mistrusted, despised, hated, you name it, and all those emotions swirl in a boiling pot as the irrational mob grows.
It’s as if you have a lot of zombies walking in one direction and then suddenly one turns around and starts walking the other way. It’s going to get trampled unless others consciously make an opening for it to pass, or perhaps turn around to help it. And that’s unlikely to happen.
There’s a saying in Luxor that Gitte told me about, “A woman is only allowed to leave with the skin on her body.”
Indeed, I spoke with many women who cannot get out because they have given every last penny away to their “husbands.” They live in a kind of purgatory, until they are buried in the sands of the nearby monastery graveyard, within the shadow of the Valley of the Queens. So many stars in their eyes, so many dreams. They hold onto their illusions of love because it is better than the truth. And who can blame them? There are so many kinds of prisons, most of our own making.
As one woman told me in a message, she wished she could tell her story of abuse at the hands of her Egyptian husband but “If I do, I won’t live to see the next sunrise.”
After it became clear that I was standing up for Gitte, the woman who was helping me start My World Project messaged me to say she had to “distance” herself from me and she hoped I understood why. She then blocked me on Facebook and never spoke to me again.
Yes, I did understand. She has to live and survive in a community where, if you speak out, really bad things can happen to you. On the other hand, how sad it is that we so easily allow fear to override our most decent human traits of compassion towards others.
Happy ending, Gitte did in fact battle her way to getting paid, not what it was worth, but at least enough to feel vindicated and without ending up floating in the Nile. And not until long after we had left Egypt…more on that in the full story.
I LOVE Luxor, it’s such a magical place and I’d go back tomorrow and do this program if I could. In my writing of the almost three years I spent in Luxor, there are many beautiful parts to the story.
Through it all, I hope by sharing this, it encourages others to stand up against fear with love and compassion.