Have you seen a tall building in Cairo?

Walking in Cairo

I do not carry a purse, so whenever I go somewhere (i.e. a cafe),  with the plan to sit for a while, I immediately empty  my pockets and place the contents on the table to make sure nothing falls out and is lost forever. This system of keeping things in sight and mind had not backfired until yesterday, when I went somewhere new, a rooftop bar in Zamalek, and met a friend of a friend of a friend and enjoyed the company and the view. An hour later while reclining at home, my roommate got a phone call from me, and by from me I mean from my phone which was now in the possession of the friend 3 times removed since I had kept it out of mind though in sight. In other words, I left it on the table.

Obviously I was bummed that I would have to hunt down the phone, but I considered myself lucky since this friend worked close to where I live so I wouldn’t have to trek over to her neck of the woods in Maadi, an hour away by cab. She emailed me the name of the building, the street on which it was located, and the floor that she was on. It was a tall building–over 15 floors—and in an area I thought I was familiar with so I figured it would be easy to find. Once I got into the cab, however, it turned out that “Companies Building” on Shooting Club street (a long street) just ahead of the Department of Agriculture (in which direction?) before the end of the street (which end/how long before the end?) was not, in fact, a real address.

To make matters worse, prior to boarding the taxi I thought it would be a good idea to break my 20 pound note by spending most of it on hazelnuts. Thus, I wasted 15 of my only 24 pounds on hazelnuts so I only had 9 pounds on me when entering the taxi and was nervous the entire time that I would have disembark far from my destination due to lack of funds. As I sweated in the taxi cab and the driver asked me about my marital status, I stared like a hawk at the meter until it proved necessary to call my friend from his cellphone to get better directions. In her noble attempts at clarification, she told me that there was a gate, a big green sign that said “Companies Building” and that the building was brown-ish. Most of the right side of the street was gated and shaded by big trees which might cover up and/or camouflage a green sign, and everything in Cairo is brown-ish from the daily bastings of dust and pollution.

Cut to me getting out of the cab right as the meter turns to 9 pounds in front of a building the driver insists is correct, since it is tall and has a big green sign that says “Arab Development Bank,” which is not as close as it could be to “Companies Building.” I know he’s not necessarily tracking with what I’m looking for, but I get out anyways since I figure I could just walk until I find it.

Cut to me 30 minutes later, the saliva in my throat turned to pollution-mud, my face a mask of sweat, grease, and dust, and my heart heavy with despair as I trek back along the other side of a busy street under the merciless sun looking for “Companies Building.” Philosophical thoughts fill my brain: What if I don’t find the building and have to walk home without my cellphone? What if I die of heat/pollution stroke on the spot? What if my teeth start falling out because of stress?

I finally spot a sign that says, not “Companies Building” but something about USAID, the organization my friend works for, and enter into a gated compound down a dusty road/parking lost. I have found the promised land. The building is just as non-descript as was described but to me it looked like heaven. I climb a short flight of stairs, greet the men at the front desk and then head to the fifteenth floor. There is a man inside the elevator that pushes the buttons for me and asks what extent I am doing well…”good? very good? very very very good?” I answer “so-so.” and when I return the question he says he’s at 100%. Show off.

Two minutes later I’m sitting in the office of my friend with her colleagues shooting the breeze and drinking Nescafe in air conditioning. My soul is healed. Finally, after being in transit to this place for an hour and a half, I am able to leave in possession of my cell phone and renewed hope for society.

After exiting the building, I try to find a cab to take home. To my surprise, no cab driver wants to take me….I put two and two together and realize home must be closer than I thought. It was a mere twenty minute walk away. Things may take longer to get done here in Cairo, but they take especially long when you have no idea what you’re doing.

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