"Ya amar, ya amar."
When I was a teenager, I used to love hearing those words — which mean something like "hey, gorgeous" in Arabic — hissed and whispered at me by men on the street in Cairo, where I spent my summers. I never got that kind of attention in suburban Southern California, where I grew up. But at the Genena Mall in Medinat Nasr on the outskirts of the city, dressed in low-slung jeans and a short-sleeve shirt, I felt like the most beautiful girl in the world.
That feeling didn't last long. A few years later, I was walking along the beach at night with my guy cousin Ramy near our family's summer flat in the El-Agamy neighborhood in Alexandria, when a group of street boys started following us — then ambushed us. They pushed Ramy aside and grabbed at me, taunted me for wearing shorts, then ran away, laughing. I was frightened and humiliated. Though the incident lasted less than 30 seconds, it felt like forever.
I never liked hearing "ya amar" again.