At first glance this letter might not seem like it involves a sexual issue, but if you'll bear with me, you'll see that it has definite sexual overtones.
Recently my girlfriends and I were vacationing in Europe. As the trip was winding down, someone suggested that next year we take in the sights in Egypt, to which my girlfriend replied, "Not a chance in hell." She then explained that about ten years ago, her older sister's friend disappeared in one of those Arab countries. A long investigation turned up nothing, but certain locals who were questioned took one look at her picture and said, "Someone like that was probably kidnapped by a white slaver."
A number of them said that although harems were outlawed years ago, it was not uncommon for wealthy oil sheikhs to have women kidnapped. They said no one questions it if a girl in her early 20s is sold to a sheikh. The kidnapped girl can expect to remain in his house as a sex slave until she gets old, by which time the sheikh's sons will be in control of the estate and the unfortunate woman will be forced to toil as a maid.
These locals also claimed some women have been kidnapped from their own countries, such as France and Italy. I figured someone on your staff, or maybe you, might be knowledgeable in this area. Are these stories true? --Fox Valley
According to someone on my staff, your letter--with references to white slavers and rapacious sheikhs--smacks of pernicious anti-Arab stereotypes. "Her sister's friend 'disappeared in one of those Arab countries'?" remarked Kevin, the sole member of my staff. "I'm not one to throw around the word 'racist,' but this question seems like a racist fantasy to me." Kevin has a hard time being objective about Arab issues, however, as he is of North African descent; Kevin's mother and father are Bedouins who emigrated to North America in the early 60s from Morocco, an "Arab country."
Anyway, when Kevin contacted the U.S. State Department in writing--as per instructions he received from an unhelpful State Department lackey--with a request for very specific information about white slavers and the risks of traveling in Egypt, an even less helpful State Department lackey wrote him back and suggested we check out the State Department's Web site, travel.state.gov.
The site includes travel warnings and consular information sheets for every country in the world. Guess what? There are currently no travel warnings in effect for Egypt (there weren't any the day before Arab terrorists shot up all those tourists in Luxor either, so a grain of salt and all that). There's also no mention of white slavers snatching supermodels off the streets of Paris or Rome. Here's all the State Department has to say about the dangers to women who travel alone in Egypt:
"While incidents of violence are rare, purse snatching, pick-pocketing and petty theft are not uncommon. Unescorted women are vulnerable to sexual harassment." The State Department suggests travelers to Egypt "check with local authorities before embarking on off-road travel....
After heavy rains, which can cause flooding in desert areas, and the consequent shifting of land mines, travelers should avoid driving through build-ups of sand on roadways." Oh, and there's this: "Eating uncooked green, leafy vegetables should be avoided, because consumption of such vegetables can cause diarrhea."
On the off chance that the State Department might be understating the risks of travel in Egypt--they're among our Arab allies, after all--we called the folks at Lonely Planet, publishers of the world's best travel guides, at their offices in Oakland, California. "This office deals with Latin America," the Lonely Planet lackey told us. "A query regarding Egypt should be directed to our Australian office. But a friend of mine once lived in Egypt and told me that the men didn't ever look twice at her. She was blond, and although she stood out and looked foreign, the men there seemed quite attracted to darker women in general. Of course, travel anywhere with caution."
Not to be outdone by the State Department, Lonely Planet has a Web site of its own: www.lonelyplanet.com. Click on the "thorn tree" page, and there you can post any questions you may have on Lonely Planet's international travel bulletin board. We went ahead and posted your letter, so by the time you read this, you should be able to surf onto lonelyplanet.com and read many, many outraged responses to your question.
Speaking of exciting travel experiences, you were probably wondering who won the Savage Love trivia contest and the trip to Las Vegas. Frankly, so was I. I had intended to announce the winner in last week's column but due to personal problems was unable to do so. Kevin, in an old Bedouin good-luck ritual, buried all the contest entries under a bush in a park and then, in an another old Bedouin ritual, smoked some hash and forgot which park. Finally, with the help of an aromatherapist, Kevin was able to remember where the 500 contest entries were, and now, without further ado, the winner of the Savage Love trivia contest:
Fifty of you won autographed copies of my stupid book, Savage Love: Straight Answers From America's Most Popular Sex Columnist. (I know, I know: How many sex columnists are there in America? There are three of us, OK? Anka counts as one half. And I am the most popular according to my publicist, so shut your pie holes.) Your books are in the mail--third class U.S. book rate--and you should have them sometime before the Monica Lewinsky scandal has fully played out.
Five of you won autographed copies of my stupid book, Savage Love: Straight Answers From America's Most Popular Sex Columnist, a box of pens, and ten dollars. Congratulations Jay Rood of Troy, New York; Francois Rameau of Richmond, British Columbia; Ingrid Ehrbar of Chicago; Marc Allen of Redondo Beach, California; and Paul Wright, #930783 at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe, Washington.
Finally, our grand-prize winner: Janet Klein of San Francisco! Yes, Janet, you will spend two days and one glorious night with Kevin Patnik, research assistant to America's most popular sex-advice columnist, and Dan Savage, America's most popular sex-advice columnist, in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada! Janet correctly answered all ten trivia questions and enclosed a winning letter of reference penned by her good friend Vicki Shegohff ("Not only is Janet your biggest fan, but she works for United Airlines. If she wins, you can all fly first class, partying all the way to Vegas"). Pack your bags, Janet (but get us that first class upgrade or I'm taking #930783 to Vegas)!
If you entered and didn't win a copy of my stupid book, Savage Love: Straight Answers From America's Most Popular Sex Columnist, or the trip to Vegas, don't despair! You can buy yourself a copy of my stupid book anywhere claptrap is sold. (Savage Love: Straight Answers blah blah blah also makes a great Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza present.) And hey, you're welcome to join us in Las Vegas--but you'll have to pay your own way. Kevin, Janet, and I will all be staying at Circus Circus--one of the few "old" Las Vegas hotels that hasn't been imploded--Saturday, January 16, 1999.
So why don't you join us? If all goes well, we'll win some money and--who knows?--we might hook up with some of them "Arab tourists" and implode Circus Circus ourselves!
Send questions to Savage Love, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.