Tag Archives: complications

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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From the desert to the desert

Libyan rebel flag

In contrast to our normal weekday routine of returning to our hovels immediately after class and studying the punishing Arabic language until the 12 am call to prayer, 2/3rd of my apartment attended a Libyan cultural event at a cultural center in a posh part of Cairo, Zamalek. Since I knew my dirty t-shirt and wrinkled linen pants would make me stand out even more, I put on the closest thing I have to an appropriate nice outfit: a business shirt, jeans, and sperries. One day I’ll fit in somewhere.

After only minor difficulties finding the place, which is literally built into the underparts of an overpass, we found the oddly shaped but surprisingly nice venue bedecked with Libyan art, much of it pertaining to the current events going on there and the ever hated Qaddafi. The Bengazian band playing on the stage in front had just announced a brief intermission for the purpose of food and liquid consumption. Never had I seen such a hoard of people crowded around a buffet table….one would think there were a famine in Egypt and this was the first sighting of sugar and butter in months. I realize food prices are high nowadays but these people are from the upper class of society and attend “cultural events” surely they’ve eaten in the last week, right?

I managed to shove my way through the swarm and grab the most delicious cupcake I’ve ever eaten in my entire life…it was especially fulfilling as I’ve been craving western sweets ever since watching that dumb Australian cooking show centered on a child’s birthday party and ergo… cupcakes.

The band’s performance was by far the best part of the night, not for the quality of its music, which was so so and tended to be pretty cliché, but for the overall experience. Imagine, if you will, a small seated crowd emitting hubbub amidst the glare of bright lights and waving Libyan rebel flags in front of a band rocking out to pop ballads revolving around martyrs and revolution and blood and sacrifice to tunes on the same emotional level as a deeper N’Sync song. The most important component, however, were the kids that got on stage and were waving Libyan flags the entire time, sometimes blocking band members from sight for entire songs and/or threatening to injure them with the enthusiasm of their movements. At one point in the night, the rapper MC SWAT was forced to switch sides of the stage in the middle of breaking it down because of the peril he faced from one little girl with braids and ribbons in her hair.

The songs revolved around love of Libya and its unity and/or revolution. One of my favorite lines from the entire night was part of a description of Libya: “From the desert to the desert.” I guess it was hard to find another distinguishing geographical feature and from the border to the border wouldn’t work.

Another highlight of the night was actually hearing formal Arabic being used in the poetry reading. My heart delighted in hearing the sound of vowelled texts and my soul was nourished with sweet teshkeel. I love the importance of poetry in Arab culture…it’s great for revolutions, resistance, politics, love, insults, competition….everything.

I hope to see more cultural events and eat more free treats from this center under the bridge.

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Quit playing games with my heart

our bowab looks kind of like this but sans hat

Before anything else: the electronic music festival was a blast. We danced, we sweated, one of the DJ’s wore a gigantic mythical bird helmet, it was free, there were no injuries that I know of (though I did hit someone while I was dancing), and no one got an accidental boyfriend. All in all, a great success. I even got to use some of my sweet hip hop moves.

Onto more pressing matters. We’ve been having issues with our landlady regarding ‘irsh or dinero or money.  We first met our landlady and her daughter about a week ago, shortly after we moved in. The landlady’s daughter, a student, was extremely nice and spoke excellent English. The landlady herself, on the other hand, a stout woman of about fifty or sixty, was a little brisk and wore sunglasses the entire time she was in our apartment. She didn’t speak very much English and what little she did know she shouted at us (VEDY GOOD).

When transactions are being conducted in translation or in Arabic, there is always a chance that something has gone awry. Right before they left, the landlady asked us for 100 pounds to give to the bowab and to pay for some other expenses in the building. The bowab is the man who “guards” the door and runs errands for the tenants and stuff like that. They’re a part of Egyptian culture, usually living a very sparse life on little money, and subsisting oftentimes on bread, eggs, and pickles. It’s important to have a good relationship with the bowab because they’re the ones who can either make your life miserable or be a great person to practice Arabic with.

Long story short, the money never reached the bowab. Furthermore, it wasn’t clear what we had actually paid for. Over the course of several telephone calls with both the landlady and her daughter, it was said the money was for a) the bowab and utilities for the building, b) our utilities and the building’s utilities c) the bowab and our utilities d) just the building’s utilities. What’s going on here? What are these games?

So….I called her daughter today and we’re going to set up a time to meet together, all five of us plus an Egyptian guy associated with the program (I told her that there would be a man in our apartment. Her mother conceded after a short conference.) On the bright side, I am now completely knowledgeable about the concept of paying for utilities. The daughter told me at least five times with different examples: “When you take a shower, you use water and you need to pay for that. When you clean the floor, you use water that and in Egypt we have to pay for these things” Ohhhhhh……I thought it was sent directly from heaven in a golden chariot. I guess I need to pay for your mother’s Krispy Kreme habit too with the money she’s squeezing out of us.

Hopefully this will turn out okay in the end and we’ll all be able to be facebook friends. We shall see…..

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No boys allowed part 1

Guess who has one proportionally short thumb, one proportionally appropriate thumb, an apartment, a phone, and one change of clothes? I do, as well as at least one other person here in Cairo. Future friend? Possibly.

My physical state is deteriorating, having dire affects on my mood and personality. I am jet lagged and subsisted on chips and a croissant for most of today. I haven’t showered yet or changed my clothes since I’ve been here, so I’m getting that grimy backpacker look that instantly indicates to people that they shouldn’t lend me money. And I’ve become prone to long periods of silent staring interrupted by brief outbursts of maniacal laughter. Is that bad?

But on the bright side: I have an apartment! I will be living in the Doqqi neighborhood of Cairo, pronounced “Do’ii” (does that help?), and it’s very close to the campus of the American University of Cairo by metro and also very close to a Pizza Hut, where I intend to have my birthday celebration as well as insist others come for their own birthdays. It’s great for kids.

It’s a three bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment characterized by gaudy furniture, tacky art, and worn furnishings, but it’s got some real charm. I’ll be living there with 2 other girls who both graduated from university a few years ago and have since engaged in very interesting things. I look forward to leeching as much life advice as possible from them. We have a television, so bring on the Arabic news! And Arabic soap operas! And random American movies!

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The day after the day of panic

I made some new CASA friends at breakfast….ate a sandwich made with cream cheese and egg on bread with a cup of coffee. The balcony of our hotel is quite beautiful I must say. In the early morning bliss it was incredibly pleasant to be sitting in the open air looking at the tops of the trees growing along the street.

The main thing on my agenda: retrieving my passport. I tried convincing my new best friends to go to the airport with me, touting the benefits of seeing it during the day. I should have advertised the potential to practice Arabic as well, but I did not, and so I went alone. As most trips to the airport are, it was long, costly, hot, smoky, and confusing. But it was ultimately successful. I repossessed my passport and found out my baggage will be arriving tomorrow inshallah. But this is Cairo, so my suitcases could also be headed on unique journey to Addis Adaba. We shall see. In the meantime, my adventure shirt that I just recently purchased is developing some interesting wrinkles in it. I wonder if I can get it read like my palm.

Also, tonight is a little get together with other CASA fellows at a sheesha (that means hookah. Sorry mom) joint downtown, where we will all be sized up according to appearance and Arabic ability….roommates will be scouted. It could be vicious. This morning I was talking to my new friends about how much I hate Canadians so I should remember that first impressions aren’t always the last word.

Still no telephone or apartment.

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