The Seductive Spell of Stories

Or, What Happens in Egypt Stays in Egypt--Until Now, Part 3

Before coming to Luxor in February of 2018, I’d spent a few years traveling the world, gaining inspiration for my writing. From Bolivia to Turkey and many places in-between, I trained with like-minded fighters, taught boxing classes and conducted My World Project, a program I’d created connecting youth around the world through art and writing. In August 2016, I spent one month in a village in the Sahara Desert, connecting children with students on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in Humbolt, California.

While living in Costa Rica for three months in 2017, I taught boxing classes to women and conducted My World Project with Maleku kids. I lived simply and did everything as a volunteer.

I arrived in Luxor, Egypt in February of 2018, thinking perhaps I’d do the same there. My heart was open, ready to embrace the culture and gain a better understanding of Islam. I wanted to prove that what my dad had told me all those years ago in June of 1967 while lying on balcony of the Winter Palace, was wrong. Arabs didn’t hate us and Islam wasn’t the religion of the devil.

In Mona Eltahawy’s controversial essay, Why Do They Hate Us, she delves deeply into the misogynistic nature of Arab men.

“Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.”

This essay received a huge backlash. It was so politically incorrect. But she was right. Incredibly, we now find that the oppression of women in Arab countries has become of no more concern to those Western female leaders, such as “The Squad” who claim to so proudly represent women and the disenfranchised. Instead, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitism sentiment is on the rise and even glorified. Everything that we once thought was wrong, we are now being told is right.

Dismantle. Deconstruct.

We are being told we must destroy the very foundation of our democracy—the essence of our identity as a nation—in order to be reborn. The Great Reset. A New World Order.

But there is nothing new about it. It is the final chapter in what every dictator has hoped to accomplish down through history: complete control of the masses. Indisputable power.

The modern day oligarchs have created a new religion of wokism. They have invaded our minds and they own our thoughts.

The Mark Zukcerbergs, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos’s of the world control us through what we all love best: the telling of stories.

The gods in the clouds are so powerful, they have achieved an almost complete monopoly on information, just as the church once did before the invention of the printing press. Just as it still does in places like Luxor. The internet brought the promise of free information for everyone. But nothing is more dangerous to the powerful than free information. And so, it had to be stopped.

“My face is my identity. No one will cover it. I’m proud of my face. If my face bothers you, don’t look. Turn your own face away, take your eyes off me. If you are seduced by merely looking at my face, that is your problem.
Do not tell me to cover it. You cannot punish me simply because you cannot control yourself.”
― Manal al-Sharif, Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening

This is the reality of the disappearance of women. Yet, this same disappearance is happening to everyone and people are gladly complying. The pandemic, with all the disruption and fear it has instilled, is being used to bring about compliance on a world-wide scale. The masking. The lockdowns. The accusations of insurrection, not only against those who invaded the capital in Washington DC, but now including the millions of people who dared to vote in opposition to the accepted narrative.

The silencing of a president who has become the face of the devil. The salvation of a nation by Biden who has become the face of Christ.

Not only the silencing of a president but a consensus across nations that it is acceptable and necessary.

Just by writing the above sentence, I realize I am creating strong emotions in many readers of anger and indignation. I am the one who is blind, you will say. Perhaps. We will see.

Dimitry Z. Manuilsky, Chairman of United Nations Security Council, 1949, said, "To win, we shall need the element of surprise. The bourgeoisie will have to be put to sleep. So we shall begin by launching the most spectacular peace movement on record. There will be electrifying overtures and unheard-of concessions. The capitalist countries, stupid and decadent, will rejoice to cooperate in their own destruction. They will leap at another chance to be friends. As soon as their guard is down, we shall smash them with our clenched fist."

Communism and fascism are two arms of the same body. They both lead to a totalitarian states ruled by dictators. Hitler. Stalin. Mussolini.

And least you think communism isn’t socialism consider Karl Marx said, “Democracy is the road to socialism.” And, “Socialism leads to communism.”

And least you still stay lulled to sleep, consider Mao Zedong, “Communism is not love. Communism is a hammer which we use to crush the enemy.”

In order for a dictator to achieve his goal there must be an enemy within. A scapegoat.

And now, slowly but surely, we are witnessing the formation of that enemy: The Unvaxxed.

You see the signs becoming ever clearer in the media. The vaxxed are virtuous and intelligent. The unvaxxed are unclean and misguided. As such, the vaxxed have a right to impose their will upon the unvaxxed. This is a righteous, almost religious undertaking. Because, after all, it is for the good of humanity. Anyone who questions the good of “all,” for the freedom of “one,” is dangerous.

The unvaxed should be singled out and separated.

In a Texas hospital, staff are saying that vaccine mandates break the Nuremberg code. And surely they do, yet the vast majority of Americans don’t seem to care.

Under Chicago’s new guidelines, “customers who have had their shots will be permitted at the bar and at tables on one side of the restaurant, while anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated — or who doesn’t provide proof — can sit in a special section where masks are required.”

Notice how for months the government assured us they were not considering federally mandated vaccine passports. Now, however, Homeland Security is taking a “close look” at vaccine passports for international travel. The slow slide is taking on momentum.

I have heard from numerous parents how worried they are about what will happen in the fall, when vaccines are available for children age 12 and up. Schools are sending out notices to get on the waiting list for the vaccine. Will it become mandatory? Or, will unvaccinated children be forced to wear masks and be separated from the others? We already know how cruel children can be to one another. Imagine how the vaxxed children will make fun of the unvaxxed ones. For those parents who put their children in private schools, particularly Christian schools, well, that is being frowned upon. Christianity is now equated with right wing extremism and racism. Will these schools be shut down? Will children be taken from their parents and put into reeducation camps?

Will there be pogroms?

Does that sound crazy?

In a March article in Ms Magazine titled How Christian Schools and Homeschooling Teach Supremacist Conspiracies the heading states “The Christian schooling and homeschooling environment is an established breeding ground for the far-right white supremacist conspiracies undergirding QAnon.”

When the vilification of one group of people is plastered across every major media outlet, continuously, after a while the narrative becomes accepted.

Millions of people across the United States don’t realize they are being manipulated into hating the very people who dare to question the oligarchs controlling all of us. As C. S. Lewis said, in what I consider to be one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read, That Hideous Strength, “But the educated public, the people who read the highbrow weeklies, don’t need reconditioning. They’re all right already. They’ll believe anything.”

It’s the little people of Middle America who are dangerous. If gradually we begin to see those little people, the farmers, the miners, and truckers, as something sinister and almost subhuman, than we get to the point where we accept things like what happened in That Hideous Strength, where the smart and cultured easily “recommended that certain classes of people should be gradually eliminated.”

Empathy is gone. Putting oneself in the other’s shoes becomes a foolhardy enterprise because those shoes are infected.

This is the fear the oligarchs feed us. Divide and conquer. Pit us one against the another.

At first glance, it might seem strange to say that my adventures in Luxor made this clearer to me than ever before. But that is what happened.

Because in Luxor, everything starts with a beautiful story. And all the stories are lies.

The stories are told by the local men. They have so perfected the lies they tell, that the women who come to Luxor, innocently looking to fulfill childhood fantasies of the Arabian Nights for a few marvelous days or weeks, fall easily into their traps.

I confess to have fallen for a local man myself. His name is Mohamadin and he was young, handsome and intelligent. He wooed me well. Many hours were spent talking in our favorite restaurant El Bairat, riding horses across the fields, and sailing in a felucca on the Nile, just as I had done in my childhood. Before I knew it, he had asked me to marry him and I said yes. Why not? We celebrated our wedding aboard the Amira Sudan, a medium sized sailing boat. That night, I found myself looking across the Nile at the Winter Palace where I had confronted my dad with so much angst as a child, wondering why he thought Islam was such an evil religion. Through my marriage, I hope to prove my dad wrong. At last I had the opportunity to go beneath the veil, to be a part of a Muslim family, and see if they really did hate us. My heart was open. I was optimistic. But I was also a writer. And as such there was a part of me—fortunately—that was able to disconnect from my emotions and look at things with an objective curiosity.

For a year or so, the marriage went well. I had my own place where I would write. Mohamadin had a home in his village and he would go back and forth between the two places. But the more I found out about the truth of this world I had entered, the more I knew I couldn’t be a part of it. When I asked Mohamadin what men there would do if their Egyptian wives dared to have lovers, as the men did, he said the wives would be killed, and it would be their husbands’ right. When I asked if he had a daughter would he have her cut, he said, yes he would. I began to read Egyptian feminine authors. I began to notice how the foreign women walked the streets with their young lovers who obviously despised them, yet the foolish women seemed oblivious. I saw how the men sat like vultures in the cafes and shops that lined the Nile, waiting to swoop down on some unsuspecting woman and pick her bones clean. I saw how the religion went so deep, there was no curiosity beyond what was taught by the Imams and imposed by the government.

One could argue lack of education was the problem. But this wasn’t the case. Many of the women who came here and got trapped were well educated and savvy in other ways. But few could resist the spell of the stories. I looked back at my own country. I noticed how the media were all repeating the same narratives, using the same key words. And intelligent people were lapping up the lies as if they were starving for them in order to escape truth they didn’t want to see.

It was when Mohamadin started asking me to invest in a property with him and his best friend, Bango, that things really blew up.

I would have happily invested in a business with Mohamadin. I would have happily bridged the gap between our two worlds, creating an alliance between his family and mine. But the men of Luxor cannot conceive of such things. They are greedy and short-sighted. They compete with one another to see who can get the most out of the foreign women, who can build the biggest and most impressive villa, drive the shiniest car, wear the finest jellabiya.

There are five major families in Luxor and they are all interconnected. Within these families are the oligarchs. The real estate mafia lords who everyone else bows down to and obeys. Mohamadin and Bango worked for one of these lords. After a year, they figured it was time to act.

One night they brought two enormous bags of cash to my villa, saying they had made a deal selling a property and were now going to buy a new property with these funds. They made a big production of counting out the money and then taking off on Mohamadin’s motorcycle to do the transaction to buy the other property. I remember how ludicrous they looked, the two of them in their jellabiya’s, Bango clutching those bags of money, and driving off into the night.

Upon their return, they explained to me how they still needed $16,000. If I could come up with the money, I could have a third ownership in the property. It was tempting. The property consisted of two domed houses, a large garden and another large piece of land that could be built on. I felt the spell encircling me. How amazing it would be to start a writer’s retreat in Luxor. What writer wouldn’t want to come here for inspiration? However, I couldn’t imagine handing over $16,000 without any assurance of where it was going. Yet this was what Mohamadin and Bango wanted me to do.

My daughter is a lawyer and we decided she would draw up a contract for us all to sign, stating exactly what the money would be used for and my one third ownership. Judging by their reaction to this contract, I don’t think the men of Luxor had ever had a woman present them with a contract before. By doing so, I had turned the tables on them and they didn't like that. They were the men who controlled everything. They loved their own contracts, where women signed papers in Arabic, without knowing what was written. Even when there was a translator, a woman could not be sure she was receiving a real translation.

I came to know of hundreds of women who had signed contracts thinking they owned a car or a villa, only to find they owned nothing. The entire west bank of Ramla is filled with massive villas, all built with the money of foreign women. A dirty secret they don’t want the world beyond their borders to know. The husbands of these women, along with lawyers, bankers, the police, everyone is in on the con. Since I started writing about this, I’ve had numerous women contact me to say how they were abused by their husbands, all their money taken from them until they became prisoners of this place, never able even to leave, alienated from their families back home.

One woman said she wished I could tell her story to the public but if she talked, she wouldn’t live until the next morning. This is not an exaggeration. Women in Luxor are poisoned, helped along in their old age, thrown in the canals, beaten, raped. Those who survived the abuse suffered in silence out of fear.

Mohamadin and Bango refused to sign the contract I had drawn up, which didn't surprise me one bit. They accused me of trying to cheat them. When I said there would be no deal without my contract, they first tried to make me feel guilty, saying if I didn’t give them the money, they would lose everything they’d put into the property, which they claimed was around $60,000. And they’d lose their reputation in Ramla as men of their word. Men of their word. That was a funny one.

Well, I said, if that was the case, then why not sign the contract? I had $16,000 waiting for them. By their refusal it became apparent they were trying to con me. They knew that I knew. The night I said my final no, the veil came off. From one moment to the next, I saw the hatred beneath. I was called vile names, threatened and rocks were thrown at the walls of the property where I was staying to intimidate me. It was all true, I realized. Everything Mona Eltahawy said in such a politically incorrect manner.

My reaction was supposed to be that I would give in and do what I was told. Mohamadin should have known better. I had warned him in the beginning if I ever even heard one disrespectful word, I would be gone. I bought a plane ticket and left the country.

It wasn’t long after I left that they found a German woman to con, married to a guy in their crew named Ali. Sandy had moved into the property and was fixing it up with the dream of starting a wellness business. I contacted her and explained what had happened to me. She was shocked. She had been on her way back to Germany to see if she could find, not just $16,000, but now it was close to $100,000. With this money she could own half of the property. She was grateful I had stopped her from doing something so foolish. Not only that, but she decided to check on whether Ali had lied to her when he said he wasn’t married. Sure enough, he had an Egyptian wife and a child.

Sandy told me I needed to talk to her Dutch friend, Dora, because she was married to Bango and was giving him lots of money. I contacted Dora and explained what was going on. Dora was so thankful. On the very day I contacted her, she’d been about to send roughly $8,000 to Bango, into an account in Luxor that she’d set up in his name. She immediately stopped payment of that money. Mind you, neither of these women were wealthy. They were both in their fifties, nice looking women, who had worked hard and saved some money for their old age. These men were going to take that money away from them.

When Mohamadin and Bango found out I had destroyed their business, Bango began sending WhatsApp messages to me like this:

“Karen, the ugly one, aren’t allowed to come to my country. Really you find big trouble … I do it for you. Fuck Karen and fuck all Americans…”

“Mother Fucker. Much better say ‘I am a bitch.’ If you don’t say ‘I am a bitch,’ I don’t let you come to my country. And I have so much thing to do when you are here. Really you find many thing not nice because you are already bitch. Say ‘I am Karen and I am bitch.’ Then I let you come to my country.”

I shared these messages with Dora and Sandy, just to be sure they understood how bad these guys were. Still, I began to sense a hesitancy in them. Their firm resolve weakened. Incredibly, both these women allowed their husbands to sweet-talk them back into the relationships. Dora ended up investing into the property where they had failed with me. I am not sure about Sandy other than that she went back to her husband, Ali.

I was flabbergasted. How could they be so blind?

And this is at the heart of what I want to say with this essay. The stories told by those in power are so seductive, so mind-bending, that they overpower the truth. It’s easy to see through them from the outside, so easy. But those caught up in the middle refuse to take away the veil. The strange this is, most people will gladly believe the lie than the stark truth.

I returned to Luxor in February of 2018, hoping to conduct My World Project between youth in Luxor and youth in Los Angeles. And I wanted to reconnect with my boxing students and continue teaching them.

I wasn’t deterred by Mohamadin and Bango’s threats. But I did take steps to protect myself. I sent them a message stating that I had a letter prepared for the Los Angeles Times, a lawyer and the US Embassy. If anything happened to me, those letters would be sent and the entire world would know what they had done. I pointed out that not only had they threatened me but they had threatened all Americans and this could be perceived as a threat of terrorism. That really frightened them. After that, the threats stopped.

I returned to Luxor, never imagining that the pandemic would soon strike its shores, or that I would be involved in even more dangerous adventures.

As the pandemic took hold, all the tourists got out. What was left were the ghosts. Those women who were imprisoned there, reduced to relying on small pensions while their local husbands had built large homes for their Egyptian wives and families and invested in the tourist trade. Even the foreign women who appeared to be successful in Luxor didn’t own anything. It belonged to their Egyptian husbands. These women often pimped out their friends, inviting them to Luxor, getting them to marry local guys and then receiving of cut of the profits.

So many stories of tragedy. It’s easy to say, oh that would never happen to me. But the spell of Luxor has a way of wrapping itself around you, tight as a mummy’s linen. Lulled into a muddled stupor, by the time you find out you’re trapped, it’s too late. You’re buried beneath the sands.

Like Angela, an eighty-something Swiss woman, who fell for twenty-something Bango’s honeyed words. Angela married Bango in the standard Orfi marriage, a one page contract enabling Egyptian men to have sex with their foreign lovers. The men get drunk and high in order to have sex with these women. But the women are convinced they are loved, so badly do they want to believe the lies.

It’s been said Angela died of alcohol poisoning. She died before I came along. Bango has a drawer full of such Orfi contracts. He juggles many women. This is his job in his family. He is a prostitute for the Mafia lords, but as I pointed out in Porn Stars on Holiday, he would never think of himself like that.

It was at an art gallery called Wanna’s that I met Gitte, a Swedish artist who had lived in Luxor for seven years. Like so many others, Gitte had fallen under the spell of a local man, Sayed Taia, when she first arrived and had done the whole Orfi marriage thing. But like me, she’d realized the error of that marriage and had thrown him out years ago. Since then, she hadn’t been with any man in Luxor. Being a single foreign woman in Luxor was a rarity. We quickly became friends, and when I ran into trouble with the landlord where I was living, who as inevitably would happen, tried to cheat me, she invited me to live in her villa.

Before Gitte bought the villa an artist had lived there. Rumors started that he was having young boys over. And so, he was forced out, under threat if he didn’t leave he would go to prison. He was another one who found out his ownership of property had been a con. He left everything, thankful to escape with his life. Over and over the same properties could be “sold,” improved by the new owner, and then taken back again. The Mafia lords of Luxor became very rich like this.    

Gitte had bought the villa for around $50,000 and when she decided to sell, she said she’d be happy to get what she paid for, even though she’d invested about $20,000 more and it was worth at least twice what she’d paid for it.

“I just want to get out,” she said.

The pandemic seemed to have brought all the worst traits of Luxor to the surface and she felt if she didn’t get rid of the villa now, perhaps she never would. Once the word was out that Gitte was selling her villa, the wolves began to circle. Meanwhile, the foreign women watched from the sidelines, their hatred of Gitte growing. How dare she think she could sell a property and leave with money? A Turkish woman who was trapped by her own enormous villa, began tormenting Gitte with messages calling her a prostitute. Ah, there was that word again, but this time from another woman.

The neighbor, a man named Ahmed, had coveted Gitte’s villa for years. He believed he had a right to own it. Gitte had a meeting with him and Abdul, the real estate tycoon who had cheated so many and had sold the villa to Gitte. She came back excitedly and showed me a wad of what amounted to about 2,000 British pounds, in Egyptian money. She’d made a deal with the neighbor. It was for about 40,000 euros. Not as much as she’d hoped but she knew she should be thankful for anything. The 2,000 was to show he was serious and the deal was done.

I was skeptical and worried about the money. “You shouldn’t have taken that money,” I said. “You should have waited a bit and thought about it.”

But it was too late now.  

At the same time, Sayed, the guy who partly owned Wanna Café—after having milked a number of foreign women of their money—said he had an uncle who wanted to buy the property. He began to pressure Gitte that she should sell it to him, not the neighbor. He would pay her more.

Even my husband’s nephew, Mohammed, a successful guy who owned a nice restaurant on the Nile and was known to go with anyone, anytime in order to get money, suggested Gitte give him the villa so he could help the community by putting a school in it.

“Why would she give it to you?” I asked.

He shrugged philosophically. “She will never get paid for it. Wouldn’t she rather give it to someone who will do good for the community, than to her greedy neighbor?”

Yes, this was a real conversation. And the crazy thing is, as you sit there by the Nile listening to the soft, persuasive voice of the handsome man in his flowing garbs, you almost begin to believe him. The spells are that powerful, the storytellers that adept.

Gitte decided she would stick with Ahmed. After all, he had said he had the money.

And then, just as she’d made this decision, her phone rang.

On the other end, a woman spoke with a strong Russian accent. “I heard about villa of you. I buy it. I pay more money than others.”

Gitte hurried down to tell me this, very excited. We were both curious. Who was this Russian woman who had suddenly appeared on the scene?

I was writing on my computer in my apartment downstairs when the Russian woman came to see the villa. The windows were huge and I could see her and her Egyptian husband walking about in the backyard. I was amazed to see she was maybe in her late twenties and absolutely beautiful, tall and willowy and dressed very chic. How had we never seen her before? It was as if she had materialized out of thin air. Her husband was young and good looking. He walked behind her and from that first moment, I got the feeling he wasn’t very involved.

But then, nor did she seem to be.  

The strangest thing about her inspection of the villa was that she appeared completely uninterested. According to her, she wanted to buy it. She had the money in the bank. They could do the deal immediately. And yet, she didn’t even try to look into my apartment, she never looked in the bathroom I used. She barely glanced at anything.

Gitte and I discussed it later. “No one behaves like that when they are about to spend $50,000 on a home.’

“Well, Russians aren’t known for their emotionalism,” said Gitte.

“Even so,” I insisted. “It’s really strange.”

When Gitte asked me to go along to the meeting with the Russian woman and Abdul, I said I would.

The meeting confirmed my suspicions that something was really wrong. The Russian woman’s Egyptian husband sat there and said nothing. He looked anxious and uncomfortable while she put on an air of boredom and impatience, as if she just wanted all of this over with.

She kept saying, “I don’t understand the problem. I want to buy it. I have the money. My husband will sign all papers.”

“So he will own it, not you?” I asked pointedly.

She gave me a mean look. “We own it. What does this matter?”

Gitte agreed to sell the house to the Russian. We left the meeting with Gitte feeling happy with the deal, until we got home and started discussing it in more detail.

Gitte had a problem. She’d already promised the neighbor, Ahmed, she would sell it to him and she’d taken money from him to seal the deal.

She decided to meet him at Abdul’s office and give him his money back.

“He’s not going to like that,” I said.

But Gitte was determined. “I changed my mind. I have the right to do that.”

I understood her point. We all realized these guys thought nothing of going back on their promises to us. But us going back on promises to them was another matter.

“It’s done,” Gitte told me, upon returning from Abdul’s office. She’d given the money back to Ahmed.

The next day Gitte was going to do the deal with the Russian who had assured Gitte she would get the money within a few days.

That night as the sun went down, we noticed strange happenings at Ahmed’s house. All day long, his family members had been arriving. Women, children and men. They had set themselves up outside in the narrow street, sitting on the ground and in chairs they pulled out from their house. By evening, there must have been between fifteen and twenty grown men out there, prowling around and staring up at the villa.

I was downstairs in my apartment when, once again, Gitte came running down and banged on my door.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, seeing her frightened face.

“Abdul called me. Ahmed is angry I went back on the deal. He’s going to attack us in the night and take the villa!”

It took a second for this to sink in. I tried to envision what that meant.

“You mean climb over the walls, break through the gate? How can they do that?”

Gitte nodded vigorously. “They can. They will do it!”

As night fell, the activity in the street became ever more intimidating. We looked down from the vantage point of Gitte’s house up at the top of the villa compound. They stared back up and spoke loudly and pointed. Someone started rattling the back gate. Who could we call to help us? Next to me was another larger apartment occupied by an elderly British woman named Jacqueline. Over the years, Gitte had given shelter to many foreign women and Jacqueline was one of them. She had one of those very posh British accents and told marvelous stories of when she was young and a BBC correspondent. Once, she’d knocked a guy out who had tried to take her cab in London. Now she was as delicate as a sparrow, the arm that had once clocked the guy twisted and deformed from a fall. Yes, she had married an Egyptian man who, along with his Egyptian wife, had divested her of every penny and were just waiting for her to die so they could strip her of her nice furniture and jewels. Sadly, just a few weeks ago she did pass away. She was an alcoholic. The cause of death was determined to be an overdose. Many women become alcoholics and addicted to opium, provided by their husbands. Jacqueline joined the other women buried in the sands of St. Tawdros Monastery, beside the Valley of the Queens.

We were surrounded by silent neighbors, none of whom would come out from behind their locked gates. The police wouldn’t help. We didn’t even know how to reach them. Gitte called the one person she knew. A guy named Waleed who had been trying to woo her, because there was always at least one guy at any given time who wanted to try his luck. Waleed arrived in his car. I heard a ruckus. Gitte ran down to the gate to look. I stayed upstairs and tried to film, but couldn’t see straight down below. I only heard the screams and cries of the men and women and the screeching of tires.

Gitte ran back upstairs, a terrified look on her face. Ahmed and the other men had beaten Waleed away with sticks. He would not come back nor would he call the police. We were on our own.

I posted the video I had filmed on Facebook and asked any of the foreign women living in Luxor to please call the police and help us. Not a single woman replied. And you can be sure my video was circulated far and wide very quickly. In fact, the next day, a woman named Iris who had befriended me so kindly and wanted to help me start My World Project, wrote me a Facebook message saying she hoped I understood why she could no longer associate herself with me. After which she blocked me. I did understand. Like all the women who lived in Luxor, she had to obey the rules imposed on her. She had no money to get out. She couldn’t dare get involved or her own life would be in danger.

What a horrible way to live. But then, I thought, isn’t this how so many people live? I saw the intimidation in the United States. How afraid people were to speak out. They would lose jobs, families, friends.

That night, Gitte and I grabbed a hammer and a big a stick. We figured we would lock ourselves in her house. But I knew this wasn’t a solution. I decided there was only one thing to be done.

I told Gitte, “I’m going down to the gate to talk to them.”

I was angry. I wasn’t going to sit there passively and wait. I was an American for God’s sake.

I will always remember the moment I walked down the stairs and went to stand at the gate. It was wrought iron, painted blue and I could look through it to the men on the other side.

All became silent and they stood looking back at me. In my most self-assured Moudira voice, I said, “I want to speak to whoever is in charge.”

Ahmed came forward to the gate. The other men looked on expectantly.

I had never spoken to Ahmed but I knew who he was.

“I am an American citizen!” I said in a loud voice, and as I said it, I felt a pride I had never known before. I wish every American could know how that feels. I had the assurance I was protected by the strongest country on Earth. Evil was a reality and one had to stand up against it. My country wasn’t perfect, but it was, in that moment, A bastion of strength and freedom that I never wanted to lose.

“I am staying here as a guest,” I continued. “I feel threatened and unsafe. I am about to contact my embassy to complain about this.”

My words brought instantaneous change. Immediately, Ahmed became solicitous. “Oh, no, do not feel this way. We love Americans. We have no problem with you. But you must understand, this is my villa now. I made deal with Gitte. She must keep the deal.”

Negotiations were the only way out of this. “Would you be willing to talk to Gitte,” I asked.

He frowned and then nodded. “Yes.”

I called Gitte and she came down. They stared at each other.

I looked at Gitte. “Will you talk to him?’

Reluctantly, she said, “Yes.”

And so continued one of the oddest nights of my life. Gitte opened the gate and Ahmed started to enter. Immediately all the other men began to protest, moving forward.

“What,” I chided. “Don’t you think Ahmed will be safe with two women?”

Ahmed turned to the men of his family and spoke in Arabic and they moved back again.

He came in the gate and we went upstairs and sat at the table outside. 

After she had made the prerequisite tea, Ahmed began to list the grievances he felt Gitte had caused him. They had made a deal, he had given her money. She had gone back on the deal. This wasn’t right.

Gitte conceded this was true, but argued that she’d been made a better offer.

But Ahmed wasn’t finished. He went to say how over the years, he had actually looked out for her and she had been a bad neighbor.

Hadn’t he always watered the dirt in front of her gate? Yes, he had.

Had she ever invited him for tea? No, she hadn’t. On and on it went, all about his grievances.

Still, this conversation had helped us out of a dangerous situationand. Perhaps I had a career in diplomacy, I thought wryly

Once the agreement was made, I asked Ahmed what would have happened to Gitte that night if we hadn’t had this conversation. He said, “Nothing. I have nothing against Gitte. She owns this house. But if anyone had tried to come to take the house, I would not let them. No one can come in this house.”

“And the Russian woman. If she had bought the house and tried to come here?” I asked.

“I would kill her. And it would be my right. It is my house.” This he said with a righteous finality.

“Anyway,” said Ahmed, a glint in his eyes. “That Russian woman, her husband meet her in Hurghada and bring her here. Her husband belongs to a family in my village. They want to take this house from me. They use the Russian woman to make you do a deal with her, because they think you trust another Western woman more than me. But she is a poor woman. It is her husband’s family who have the money. This is also why I am so angry.”

By four o’clock in the morning, the deal was sealed, Abdul had brought the papers and they were all signed. The next morning Gitte called the Russian to say the deal was off. She sounded relieved. I wonder what happened to her. I hope she wasn’t beaten for failing. I hope she got out and back to her family.

We hoped that was the end of the problems. But we couldn’t forget that it had been sealed through coercion, by threats of bodily harm.

A few nights later, we were sitting down by the Nile, drinking a bottle of wine and laughing about how many times we had sat together drinking wine, shaking our heads and saying, “We’re never going to get out of here alive.” Gitte’s phone rang and I saw her expression change from relaxation to horror.

“I have to go,” she said. “My husband says he has a contract I signed years ago and that he owns the house! I must go see Ahmed.”

I got up soon after and went to find Gitte at Ahmed’s house. Keep in mind that although it was the height of the pandemic, no one paid attention to that in Luxor. Life went on as usual, no social distancing, no masks. It was strange in that regard to feel freer in Egypt than I would have been back home.

Apparently, Gitte had to go to the police station to answer questions. If she had indeed signed the house over to her husband, it meant she had sold the house twice, which was illegal and she could be put in jail.

“She must go to the police station tonight to answer questions,” Ahmed said.

“No!” I said.

“No!” Gitte echoed.

We went back to the villa. “I never signed anything!” said Gitte.

The stress came back all over again.

“They can’t make you go to the police station. If it was true, the police would come and get you,” I said.

But around 9 pm Gitte said she had to go and she got in the car with Ahmed and a lawyer of his and went to the police station.

And so began another series of intimidations, to break her down and make her just give up the villa without getting paid. Gitte spent the entire night and many times thereafter at the police station being interrogated in a chaotic atmosphere, surrounded by men with guns and a cage with criminals inside.

Gitte’s Egyptian husband from the past, Sayed Taia, apparently had given the police a contract she had signed about five years ago, handing the villa over to him. It was ludicrous of course. But the police and the lawyers claimed she could face prison time.

Gitte was sure she had never signed anything. Once again, just when she thought everything was worked it, it was all precarious again. She hadn’t received her approximately 40,000 Euros for the villa and wouldn’t until after a complicated process where the money had to be transferred to her bank in Britain. She didn’t even know if it would ever really happen.

In the meantime, we were trying to find flights out of Egypt back to our separate homes.

But Gitte was told she couldnt leave the country until this problem was resolved. A German friend of Gitte’s husband introduced Gitte to a lawyer who spoke good English and offered to help her.

“Don’t trust anyone,” I said.

Of course I didn't need to tell her this, she already knew. That lawyer is one of the men in my previous piece who was trying to pull Gitte out of the taxi as we left for the airport.

The abuse continued. The threats of imprisonment.

One afternoon, I went with Gitte to a meeting with Abdul. He told Gitte, his large eyes filled with fake sorrow, “I cannot protect you anymore. You must make a deal with your husband. Give him half the money.”

“What are you saying? Is this a threat?” I demanded. “What’s he going to do, kill her?”

Abdul shrugged expressively. “Perhaps.”

It was all a game and they held the cards.

Gitte spoke up and it seemed she’d finally had enough. “I don’t care if he kills me. I’m not giving him a penny.”

We left the meeting. By this point we had both moved out of Gitte’s villa. She into El Gezira Gardens and me into another flat down by the Nile. Gitte was careful not to let anyone know when she was leaving. Increasingly she didn’t feel safe in Luxor. Neither of us ever went out alone after dark. We were always careful.

As luck would have it, we both found flights on the same day. We were finally getting out. The night before our flight, we had a bottle of wine up in Gitte’s room. Her money still hadn’t arrived but she had made peace with it. By this point, like our mantra had become, we just wanted to get out alive.

As I related in Part 2, even as we tried to leave for the airport we were attacked. And once on our way, our driver explained how all Western women were “porn stars on holiday” and deserved to be taken advantage of.

The story has a happy ending. Besides both of us making it safely home, Gitte did finally receive her money. A rare accomplishment for a woman who had lived and married in Luxor.

I returned to Phoenix to find a nation plagued by riots, divided and fearful. Looking back, I have not one regret of my Luxor adventures. While others were stuck in lockdowns, I was riding my bike each day to the the Valley of the Kings, always in awe at the mystery and wonder of this place, sometimes passing Mohamadin and his crew, smiling at them and waving as they ground their teeth in anger, never a dull moment.

Mostly importantly, I fought alongside a brave Swedish woman for her rights and we won.

Don’t give in to the fear. Don’t fall for the lies.

I hope you enjoyed this essay. Please comment and share if you wish.