op-ed: miss cotton travel diary – egypt is beautiful but i constantly had to face blatant racism

October 20, 2015

Egypt is one of the world’s top holiday destinations.  Tourists bring 7 billion dollars a year to the economy. Unfortunately the splendour of the archaeological sites is ruined by the behaviour of some of the local population.

By Miss Cotton, AFROPUNK Contributor

Text translated from French by  Sarah Hardenberg 

Photos by Mathieu Cellard 


I was thrilled to add Egypt to my travel record !  This was in 2012.  I had arrived from Israel, passing through the Sinai, and then a fourteen-hour bus journey to reach Cairo.  There is no need to describe my reasons for travelling to the third strongest African economy after South Africa and Nigeria. The pyramids are mind-blowing; Tahir Square is beautiful, but less impressive.  The crowds, heavy traffic, pollution and look of solitude and bitterness on some people’s faces oppressed me but I put all this down to exhaustion.  Then I decided to visit Saint Catherine’s Cathedral and Neiwaba.



“Yes, yes, one can be black and French”

So I set off for nine hours on the road.  In the fifty-seater bus, there are still ten places free.  I sit in the middle, as usual, near a window, so that I can see the countryside or doze with my head against the glass.  The views change between areas of desert and lush vegetation.  I have the impression of seeing an animated postcard.  Unfortunately this waking dream is shattered by the bus driver, angry with the police who constantly stop us on the route.  My scraps of Arabic allow me to make out the furious exchange :


  • Karloucha africana ! (the black girl is African !)

  • Lé, sarfatiya ! (No, French !)


It seems the police think I am an illegal immigrant on the way to Israel.  In which case, out of the question to pass without paying.  If only this had happened once, but sometimes the cops hit the bus with their batons for it to stop and once on board rush over to me.  I remain silent, but hold up my French passport to their face.  I long to say, “Yes, yes, one can be black and French, don’t be deceived”.  However, I am in their country, so it is wiser to keep quiet.


Saint Catherine’s Cathedral is magnificent, I can almost say that it really was worth going such a long way.  For almost two hours I climbed the endless steps, until I could no longer feel my legs.  I had to wait for sunrise.  The aches of the night-time cold are forgotten the moment the sun appears.  It is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen.  My eyes brim over with tears.



“Before, they were our slaves, now they are our customers” 

Once I had finished there I thanked our charming French speaking, Egyptian driver, Farid.  He helped me negotiate with one of his colleagues to take me to the hotel I had booked. Before entering the minibus we had a final chat, and the resulting smiles disturbed my driver.  I noticed the antagonism between the two men and yet another offensive dialogue.  In the flow of words I again heard “karloucha”, this disdainful word concerning me.  “Before they were our slaves, now they are our customers”, scornfully stated.  I treat him with contempt. Farid had given me his number and told me to call if anything happened.  What a pity he had not been going in my direction.  He was so agreeable and peaceful.  I tried not to be too offended and spoke to the other passengers, mainly European : a French family, a couple with their 16 and 20 year-old children, a Spanish gay couple, and a polyglot Austrian woman who spoke Arabic, French, German, Spanish and English.


All went well until the driver announced that he would not drop me at my hotel since it was out of his way, although the French family were lodged only 700 metres from my hotel.  The tension rose.  The Austrian woman tried to reason with him, but he did not want to listen.  I called Farid, but the driver refused to take the telephone.  Wild with anger, I threw my bottle of water into his face.  He then suddenly braked and chucked me out like a piece of rubbish.  I barely had time to recover my backpack.  It was hot, I no longer had any water, or battery and my legs hurt.  I walked for a long way until I found a vehicle that accepted to take me.



Too much is too much

To evacuate my stress before leaving the country on my way to Jordan, I decided to go diving.  In the end it was mask and tuba.  As I came up out of the water an Egyptian touched me up me a first time.  I said nothing.  A second time his hand was frankly groping my buttocks.  This was too much.  I was lost for words.  Words no longer sufficed.  My anger exploded and I lunged at him as if my life was at stake.  We were separated.  He presented his excuses.


I left the country the next day.  I have never set foot in Egypt since then.  I do not want to remain on a bad impression but I have to admit that I have never had such a bad experience of being black.  There is nothing I can do about it, I was born this way and I refuse to be a victim.


Picture by @benoitseguin
Make-up and hair: Nadeen Mateki,