A young woman stands under the spotlight inside a small theater at the elite American University, looking defiantly into the audience.
She is “Muslim Woman,” one of four actresses performing a skit of the same name put on by Cairo’s Bussy Project, a three-year-old troupe of playwrights-turned-anthropologists.
Project participants say they are tired of women’s issues being ignored or pushed aside in Egypt, but are also upset at the way that many in the West think about Arab and Muslim women.
“I’m passive, weak, uneducated, veiled from head to toe, one of his four wives, work in the kitchen all day,” says “Muslim Woman.” “That’s what you think, right?”
“My liberation won’t come from the one who has oppressed me – bringing me democracy?” retorts her companion on the stage. “You think you’re really gonna send Condi to tell me how to be free?”
Since 2006, the project – named after the Arabic command, “Look!” – has collected stories from Egyptian women about some of the country’s most taboo topics, including street harassment, sexual abuse, divorce, female circumcision, and the confusion that arises in a culture that discourages male-female interaction but makes women’s primary social responsibilities marriage and childbearing.
Who really found Machu Picchu? Apparently, it wasn’t Hiram Bingham:
Little is known about Augusto R Berns, an obscure entrepreneur now largely lost to history, but documents unearthed in US and Peruvian archives by the American historian Paolo Greer, reveal that Berns discovered Peru’s most famous archaeological site in the late 1860s before setting up a company specifically to loot Machu Picchu and its immediate surroundings.
Berns had set up a railway sleeper production business in Peru, and stumbled on the unknown ruins of Machu Picchu after purchasing nearby land to fell trees for timber. He explored the mountain citadel ruins between 1867 and 1870.
In 1887 the Peruvian government consented to the looting of Machu Picchu, even making an agreement with Berns allowing him to export the material as long as he gave the government a 10 per cent cut. One of Berns’ business partners in the venture appears to have been the director of Peru’s national library. The vice- president of Berns’ company was a pathology professor at a university in Lima, a collector of antiquities who eventually sold his collection to a museum in Berlin.
Which makes one wonder if we haven’t, unknowingly, built up a biased picture of Machu Picchu based on what was left…