I’m still homeless, living in the scary 70’s hotel. I’ve been sitting in the hallway to use the internet because the wireless doesn’t reach my room. There’s a big pile of sheets in one corner near the fire exit, which I didn’t pay much attention to at first but just today I noticed it is in the exact shape of a folded-up dead body leaning against the wall. (I don’t think it is one. It’d smell more.)
Anyway, I agreed to meet Caroline yesterday to look at flats her friends knew, plus to meet a new simsar named Madame Sinai.
When I arrived at the Costa Coffee around six, Caroline was sitting at a table by herself, but the next table over was occupied by the one and only Zurich Man. I said hello and sat down. Mr. Swiss looked surprised to see me and asked how the flat hunting was going. We said we’d seen a lot but nothing really convincing. He said he was going to move downtown because he doesn’t like Zamalek enough – “It’s too much like South Kensington in London, you know?”
Zurich Man said half-jesting that we should take over his lease. This would never work because the landlord has already made clear that he’s not interested in hosting roommates, only couples and singles, but after everything else that happened to us later in the evening, it’s a pretty tempting offer.
Eventually we managed to get rid of Zurich man and Caroline revealed he’d said some fairly inappropriate things about our former simsar (”Oh, she had such a crush on me, I think.”)
Caroline’s friends showed up and it turned out that they didn’t actually know of any flats. Rather, they picked up a third friend, one who lives in Zamalek and he took us to a building where we met yet another simsar. In fact there appeared to be two of them. It began to feel like every apartment we stopped at suddenly there was a new bowaab or simsar demanding yet another piece of the pie. (A simsar is a real estate agend and a bowaab is a doorman/porter, for those of you not familiar with colloquial Arabic.)
Finally after seeing three or four hilariously inappropriate apartments (one of them had a rug painted like an American football field, several had large decals of Italianate villas stuck to the walls…like a fake view), we decided to split up. I went to meet Madame Sinai and Caroline decided to look at a few more places with her friends. This is where it all went downhill.
When I met Madame Sinai she told me about a few places here and there and it all seemed very promising. And then…in the lobby of the first building she wanted to show me was Caroline with her friends and all the bowaabs and simsars they’d managed to attract along the way. She looked like a bright little fish surrounded by sharks.
I asked if she wanted to come with us and ditch the rest of them and she said yes, she was done with the boys. And then the simsar/bowaabs began yelling at us in Arabic and the international language of wild gesticulation. I couldn’t follow what they were saying. Suddenly Madame Sinai rounded on me and said, “I cannot be dealing with this situation. I go to take you to an apartment and then these people tell me you have been looking with them for the past two, three days and I do not do this, we are a very professional organization, and we do not do this.”
Caroline and I countered that we’d never seen these men before an hour ago and they were a pair of shifty liars. We have been looking with other simsars, but it’s true we’d not seen these two before. I don’t know when Caroline’s friends disappeared but by this time they were gone, leaving us with three angry simsars.
Madame Sinai finally paid the irate bowaab/simsars off but looked pretty displeased with us. Then, unfortunately the very next building she took us to visit was the one with the Lady Diana Portrait Rug simsar. We’d spent an hour and a half the previous evening waiting to be shown something in that building and they had been unable to produce the key for some reason – but instead of telling us to come back later, when they could give us the key, they just kept us waiting, saying ten more minutes, ten more minutes, ten more minutes. Of course the second we walked in with Madame Sinai they were all over us, saying we were going behind their backs.
Madame Sinai turned to us again, saying, “Look, every building I take you to they say you’ve already been and seen things with them. How can I do a deal with you, we’ll have to cut these people in?!”
At this point I was incredibly pissed off. I was already angry at having waited an hour and a half the previous evening only to be shown nothing at all. How could they possibly think we were going behind their backs to see something that they hadn’t even shown us? Why were we being taken to the same eight apartments over and over by different simsars? How were we supposed to know they were all going to show us the same apartments? In what way had we been dishonest? We were just looking for an apartment and we were going to look with anybody who had something to show us – and if they didn’t have anything to show us, why should we waste our time?
I began yelling. I yelled and yelled at the man who accused us of double-crossing him. I knew he probably didn’t understand what I was saying but I yelled anyway. And then I stalked off, hoping to be through with all these complications and troubles, though completely unsure how I was going to find an apartment if all the simsars refuse to deal with me. I stomped on down the street, feeling like I was going to cry again, at a loss.
I did cry. But when Caroline called me to say the problem had been sorted, I went back to look at the place. When I arrived at the building the angry man wanted to get on the elevator with me. I refused in my firmest (and simplest) Arabic. I started crying in the elevator.
Eventually Madame Sinai agreed to show us several different things including one apartment we’d seen before. This apartment to me is THE ONE. It’s nothing extravagant, just beautifully situated on a quiet street with nice views and a light, airy feel. Nice kitchen. They want more than we want to pay for it, of course. The owner won’t budge on the price, and I suspect Madame Sinai is not tempted to bargain very hard on our behalf.
Part of me doesn’t want to do business with any of these people. I don’t like them, I don’t like dealing with them, I’m frustrated by only understanding about half the conversation, and I really don’t like being trated like a stupid crook. But I suppose they feel the same way.
The worst part of all this is I can feel myself becoming the arrogant expat, growing easily irritated, yelling at people in English, losing face and saying things like, “Well, that’s not how it works in America…” And that really does make me feel like a bad person or at least someone extremely ill-prepared to live outside my own little home comforts, my American habitat.