All / Originally Posted on Skirt

Simsar Wars and Ice Cream Consolations

I’m still hunting for an apartment here in Cairo, and tonight one estate agent agreed to meet me at 9 PM.  The time came and went and half an hour later I called to ask what was going on.  “Because of Ramadan all the people are praying late, so this is why I didn’t call you.  Wait five minutes, I will call you back.”  This didn’t happen either. 

I don’t begrudge people prayer time.  Not in the least.  Pray all you want.  But it did really bother me that this person would arrange a meeting with me knowing that there would be an obstacle to that meeting.   In fact I asked why she set an appointment knowing the people with the keys wouldn’t be available at that time.  She explained that you know, sometimes after praying people go for a coffee or a sheesha in a cafe and they don’t want to go back to the buildings or answer phone calls.  “So after Ramadan madame, you can get mad at me, but during Ramadan this is out of my control.”  Her explanation disarmed me and I smiled.  I’m following up on two other housing leads tomorrow, so I may not meet this particular agent again, but my opinion of her has gone up.  Slightly.

I got tired of washing my underwear in the hotel sink, not to mention the bloated trash bag full of dirty clothes in the bottom of my suitcase.  In a fit of cleanliness exacerbated by the fact that I don’t know when I’ll next see a washing machine, I sent all my laundry out.  I got a soft knock on my door earlier this evening.  “Hello kind lady!  Here is your laundry!”  Bless them, there was so much of it that once it was clean and pressed they’d had to send three people to carry it all back.  (Mind, it did fit in one trash bag when it was dirty.  But they weren’t about to shove it all back in higgledy-piggledy after they’d gone and pressed creases in my socks.)  They gently made fun of me for having so much laundry.  I couldn’t agree more.

I actually tried to find the cleaners myself in the afternoon after getting directions from the hotel.  I wasn’t able to locate them despite asking directions twice and returned to the hotel about twenty minutes later, overheated, annoyed that I’d had to carry my heavy laundry around and embarrassed at my attempts at asking directions in Arabic.  One of the hotel staff looked surprised I’d returned defeated and explained in broken English that the cleaners were on the same street we’re on now, smiling at me condescendingly.  “Oh I must be very stupid, because I wasn’t able to find it,” I said in a simpering voice with my eyes wide.  

It’s rare that I allow people to treat me like I’m stupider than I am.  Mostly because my ego likes the affirmation of being respected as a smart person, but also because I think it’s disingenuous to lead people to believe I am dumber or less capable then I actually am in order to get what I want.  Ultimately, doing that is just as crass and disrespectful as them trying to treat me like an idiot in the first place.  But I have to say, there are times that I’ve made exceptions.  A really smart person picks their battles, and this time I won clean laundry that I didn’t have to carry myself.   

Before waiting for the simsar to call I went for dinner at Didos Al Dente, a not fabulous but perfectly charming small Italian restaurant on one of my favorite streets in Zamalek.  Cairo streets at night are schizophrenic: they’re either floodlit by glaring yellow tungsten lights or not lit at all – and cars often run without any lights even in the dead of night, so getting around after dark can feel like a real adventure.

A couple days ago I bought myself a small flashlight and boy am I glad I did because now I can walk on the sidewalk at night!  The flashlight itself is a little funny.  To turn it on or off you have to shake it or smack it lightly, but it has to have a little switch on the side anyway to keep it from randomly turning on when you’re just carrying it around, so the whole shake-it-to-operate gimmick is a little redundant.  Anyway, I’m the only person I’ve seen walking around with a flashlight (despite it being such a boon for navigating Cairo at night) so I get a lot of stares.  I already feel like the neighborhood lady eccentric what with the yellow parasol, so I might as well play for all the chips.  Walking around in the dark smacking a flashlight is certainly contributing on that front.

After dinner (lasagna) I went for rich, gelato-like ice cream at my favorite little sweet shop.  They have a large counter devoted to baklava, but also one case of bright tubs of ice cream in the corner.  I got pistachio and chocolate, one of my favorite flavor combinations.  I walked back to the hotel with my little cup of ice cream and my tiny plastic spoon and thought that sometimes Cairo doesn’t seem so bad.  Sometimes.