I agreed to meet a woman named Caroline yesterday to discuss whether we might want to live together and to look at some flats. She e-mailed me back after the message I sent out on the Cairo Scholars list, just saying she’ll be here for six months working for an NGO to promote local Egyptian handicrafts and giving microloans. She was born in Egypt but grew up in California, she doesn’t smoke, she has an MA in something like International Relations and Foreign Policy.
Originally I’d planned to meet the estate agent at 3 PM. At 3:30 I hadn’t heard anything from her; when I called she was still at the closing with Mr. Swiss and what sounded like the world’s most irritating landlord. After a lot of me calling and her saying they’d only be twenty more minutes, twenty more minutes, twenty more minutes, she told me she couldn’t meet until after iftaar. Fine. Caroline and I could meet up in the mean time and suss each other out.
I met Caroline around 6 at a Costa Coffee. It turns out she’s not just working at the NGO, rather, she’s spent the past several months incorporating it herself and registering it through all the proper channels in the US. Now she’s here to do the same on the Egyptian side and start looking for products. She seems extremely down-to-earth, practical, conscientious, clear on what she wants, and obviously very driven to get her nonprofit organization up and running. Plus, our interests coincide enough that potentially we could help eachother with our research. In short, she seems like the ideal roommate. A part of me is still wary though, recalling the time I moved in with a girl who seemed incredibly sweet but who turned out to be a raving nutcase who went around talking to squirrels in an attempt to save their immortal souls from the ennui of endless reincarnation. ( And if it had just been that, it would’ve been fine, but that was only the beginning…)
Anyway, when I apologized to Caroline for the situation with the realtor, she just smiled and shrugged, saying, “It’s Egypt. These things happen.” This didn’t mean that she was complacent once we started looking at flats. Luckily we’re both really on the same page about what we want: nothing extravagant, just clean, nice, light and airy with all the usual facilities. Why should we be asked to accept anything less? Surely those are reasonable demands.
But before that even started we had to get through to the real estate agent and get her to show us something! I called the girl again, and again, and again. Finally around 8:30 or so she picked up and apologized for the wait. It turned out that, as I suspected, after the closing she and Mr. Zurich had gone out for iftaar together in celebration–despite the fact that I had been waiting all day. Worse, he was still there and asked to speak to me. “How’s the flat-hunting going?” Well, I haven’t seen anything today (because you’ve been hogging the estate agent even though your deal is done now!!!!) “No no, but how are the rooms in private flats? What about those?” I counted to five in my head and asked to speak to the realtor, who was the person I’d actually called. Apparently Mr. Swiss had wanted to come meet us while we looked at flats but thought better of it because I seemed upset with him. Too right.
So finally we began to look at things, all of which were out of our budget and frankly not very nice. Caroline pulled me aside and said, “They’re totally screwing around with us because you’re a foreigner. They keep giving us all the prices in dollars for no good reason, and now they’re pissed off because I’ve come and ruined their sweet deal. They’re just showing us ugly stuff so we’ll agree to a bigger budget.”
In rapid Arabic she explained to the agent that she’d been showed way better things for the same amount of money, and when the realtor demurred, explaining that this is Zamalek and it’s different, Caroline said she’d only been looking in Zamalek so far. Finally our estate agent got annoyed with us and passed us off (though with an excellent veneer of politeness) to a male colleague. Caroline alternately bullied and flattered him until he finally took us to some nicer flats for the same price. By this time he was sweating bullets and looked less than happy. We didn’t find anything suitable, but we did have fun, I must say.
So the plan today is to go around looking at likely buildings and then asking the doormen if there are any flats available. This is a practice recommended by the Practical Guide to Cairo, but until now I’ve not considered it because you need a friend with lots of time on their hands who speaks really good Arabic in order to make a deal.
Caroline’s close family friend Loreli came with us while we hunted about–she’s just finished her Master’s in social work and is taking some time to visit her family here in Egypt before looking for a position in the States. She carried around a little bag of dates given to her by her aunt the whole time we were on the hunt and went around checking faucets, cupboards and the air conditioning, being an extra pair of eyes. Every time Caroline was out of earshot Loreli told me what a great person she was; easygoing, quiet, and how great a roommate she’d be. I thought this was terribly sweet and I was actually a little flattered because surely she wouldn’t have bothered to sell Caroline so much if she didn’t think I was a worthy roommate. At the end of the evening she and Caroline left me with two large handfuls of beautiful red dates. She’ll be coming with us today as well. I’m really looking forward to it.