Tag Archives: surprises

If these family members could speak

Recently we hired a cleaning lady for our apartment since the amount of filth that piles up around here in a matter of days is simply incredible. Dust coats everything in record time and if one so much as sneezes in the vicinity of the white tile floor, it instantly turns brown, the moist droplets propelled out of the nasal cavity attracting every dust particle within a ten yard radius before becoming permanently attached to the ground. Keeping the place clean would be a full time job, and since none of us brought our mothers (just kidding) or our roombas with us, it was necessary to find a solution. Having maids in Cairo is very common for upper class families I think, and though we are not necessarily upper class, we are certainly a family so we thought on that basis we might as well try the culture out.

Our cleaning lady, who I will call Nancy, was wonderful. The two times she has come, the apartment feels like it sparkles after she leaves if ratty carpets, embroidered artwork, and Louis the XIV style furniture could sparkle. But something strange happened last week: Nancy didn’t come. We waited for her knock at the door, but heard nothing. We called her cell phone and she didn’t pick up. In fact, it was turned off. We waited a little bit longer, but still no Nancy. Then we began to worry.

She had become like family to us, kind of, like one of those family members you don’t really talk to that much. Like a family member that asks to be paid in return for cleaning your entire apartment. Like a family member you can’t really communicate with because they speak a different language and are busy most of the time they’re around. Like a family member that randomly disappears and doesn’t call to let you know that they’re okay but not going to be able to make it to the apartment because of an emergency on the other side of the family. Like a family member that you thought was really reliable and then turns out they sometimes just don’t show up to their expected appointments even though there hadn’t been any change of plans.

In other words, she was almost a sister to us. She is supposed to come tomorrow, and we are all holding our collective breath and crossing our fingers that she makes it and not only for the sake of our apartment’s level of cleanliness. We really do hope everything is okay with her. If not, then not only will I have to spend hours wondering what happened to her, but we’ll have to find another family member to replace her, and that’s never easy.

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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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This is how we cross the street

Crosswalks exist in Cairo. I have seen the lines painted on the ground in crosswalk shape and  a sign indicating that the area was appropriated for pedestrians to cross the street. The electric signs are a bit ominous, however, since the green figure moving across the triangle looks like he is sprinting frantically.

No one uses these crosswalks. Most of the time they don’t exist, especially at major intersections.

Allow me to paint you a picture: it’s 8:30 in the morning and you need to cross a busy street lined with Cairo life: shops, kiosks, carts, and people. It’s already hot outside and you’ve begun sweating. You can see your destination through the polluted haze on the other side of the road, and you know that you must take your life into your hands before you reach it. You approach the highway. Cars, motorbikes, and busses zoom past you. If you’re lucky, there is another poor soul taking the same route; strength lies in numbers. Too often, however, you must go it alone. The cars will not stop of their own initiative, and the only traffic light you’ve seen in Cairo was broken. You see a gap…someone had to turn. You rush forward through the first “lane.”  Suddenly you’re trapped in the middle of the street, vehicles whirling around you. Another gap…you hurry to the safety of the median and forget to look to see if there are cars coming from the other direction. Out into the street you step with over-confidence and notice row of three cars rushing towards you, but one of them quickly slows down to let you by. You give them a deft wave of the hand as if to say, “That’s right. You best slow down.” Suddenly you’re almost hit by a motorbike that came out of nowhere…your hair swooshes in the air from its draft and you’ve lost your breath and need a new pair of pants.

And that’s how you cross the street. Is it dangerous, yes. Is it fun, sometimes. It helps if you scream silently to yourself. I don’t think the cars will actually hit anyone, but traffic statistics tell me otherwise.

Towards the end of the year, I want to start a competition to see who can get the fastest car to stop for them. There will be no surviving losers.

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What’s that silver vat for?

The first grocery shopping trips in foreign lands are always mini-adventures, as are many otherwise ordinary activities. I wanted to get milk so I could make my Nescafe properly and savor its delicate taste every morning and tea time as I have for the past year. Half milk, half water, one teaspoon of Nescafe, and a packet of Splenda. Curses upon anyone who comes between me and my Nescafe reverie.

We went to a dairy place (I forgot the name for it in Arabic), a little store where one would purchase all milk, yogurt, egg, and cheese needs, and after we had gotten our dozen eggs and apricot jam, we asked for a kilo of milk as well. I was expecting one of those boxes of ultra-pasteurized milk that I remembered from my time in Morocco, but even as I was picturing them in my head, I turned around and a gigantic silver vat  had appeared in the center of the room out of nowhere.

I don’t know how I missed it beforehand or why I didn’t think about how odd it looked to me, but there it was, the veritable vat in the room, the china in the bull-closet. And then as I watched, a young man took a measuring cup and dunked his arm down into an opening in the vaguely pyramidical vat cover and out the cup came full of (fresh?) milk. He poured it into a bag, tied it up, tossed it into our shopping bag, and we were on our way.

Huh, I thought. That’s not what I was expecting.

Tonight we’re having a little get together with the other CASA fellows at Happy City hotel. I imagine it is staffed by muppets.

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