Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Falafel and the Blow Dryer

One week in Cairo, and I do believe Tressa and I have settled in fairly well. Our gigantic Maadi apartment has been cleaned and stocked - toilet paper (naturally, we have both been spending a fair amount of time on the porcelain throne), five 26 oz bottles of duty-free liquor to last us through the "winter", fridge full of groceries (including a pallet of 32 eggs, the dangerous possibly-infected-with-typhoid produce, instant coffee and a giant bucket of glorious Istanbul-style white cheese), case of bottled 1 litre water (though I have been told by several brave teachers that Cairo's water is safe to drink but just tastes bad- "All the chlorine in it kills the Nile's parasites!!"), and of course, a small box of friskies catfood for our resident Bastet look-a-like, the skinny tabby from the street, 4 stories below.

The AC blasts all day (we were lucky enough to get an apartment with air-con, thank heavens) - all day when there isn't a power cut, that is. Cairo recently has been stricken with regulated daily power outages where we are left sitting in the dark, internet-less and without AC for exactly an hour. Some days we will be lucky enough to not get one at all, other days it can happen up to 3 times. It always starts exactly on the hour, and lasts for one hour, and is done to reduce stress on the apparently overloaded power grid (When daily temperatures reach 37 degrees Celsius and there are some 20 million people in one city, I suppose the power plants are a bit breathless and overloaded). This reminder of the precarious nature of our energy resources hasnt stopped me from cranking the AC at all hours though, in fact its resulted in me thinking quite the opposite: If I'm being inconvienced anyways , I may as well enjoy those bourgeois comforts guilt-free and abundantly, right?

Funny note: Just as I was writing this, the clock struck 5 pm, the AC stopped, and yes, a powercut indeed began.

Even in public places, if there is a powercut, you can expect a certain measure of chaos. Last night at the Maadi City Centre Mall, whilst shopping the aisles of a larger shoe-and-clothing shop for new flipflops, the lights went out and no back-up generators kicked in. The result was a large multileveled store full of people fumbling for their phone flashlights, being escorted by Mall security to the store entrance, where indeed there were some backup generators providing light throughout the main mall thoroughfare.

Larger shops such as the omnipresent grocery giant Carrefour are above such inconvenience, providing their own power supply, and thus we headed there to purchase groceries and a few more needed household items while the rest of the city went dark.For those who don't know, the Carrefour is a very large megastore, somewhat akin to the American Wallmart. Rather than hunting down various shops that are near impossible to find in our neighbourhood (dollar store, shoes, bathroom products etc), it is much easier to just grab a taxi and head for the giant neon florescent lights. I say it with some shame - one week here and there's been 2 trips to the Carrefour, and we havent even seen the pyramids yet.

I also thought it might be a logical opportunity to quickly pick up a hair dryer - though why one would want to dry ones hair with a heated appliance in a stuffy desert environment is an illogical mystery that, like the Pyramids, might never be fully explained or solved. Regardless, what I thought might be a simple task - grabbing the item off the shelf and paying for it at the cash register- was an exercise and lesson itself unto the Egyptian Bureaucratic nightmare machine.

First to even locate the item required asking a Sales Associate and pantomiming the act of drying ones hair. Hairdryers: obviously located next to the MP3 players, powertools and blenders. Then, it is not simply possible to throw the hairdryer into ones cart, for a special form needs to be filled out, which takes approximately 15 minutes to do so, and then one must take this form and pay for the item elsewhere, and come back. Of course, as it turns out, one cannot pay for the electronic goods with ones groceries at the regular tills, but instead one must go to a special desk. If after figuring this out and managing not to pull out ones own hair (which would in fact render the now paid for hair dryer, rather useless), one will go back and be handed the coveted dryer only to be told to go to customer service for it to be "checked", testing the wires and settings, and of course, getting the security beeping device removed lest one be accused of shoplifting and thrown into one of General Sisi's illustrious prisons.

By the end of all this half hour long running around, my patience had run dangerously thin (think irate Italian man gesturing frantically with his hands, cursing), the perishable goods in our cart were nearing expiration, and my face had taken on a new level of sweat and rosy flustration. I remarked at the near saint-like levels of patience exuded by my fellow Egyptian shoppers- this sort of thing was par for the course for them - what was I getting so irritated about?? It got me to thinking how grossly spoiled we are in Canada, and of course, in moments the inevitable "Why am I here?"question cooed and cawed in my head like a kookabura bird on speed.

At the risk of becoming one of those reflective people who runs from one intercontinental Existential crisis to another, the simple fact that in the same mall visit I was able to eat a delicious falafel platter for a fraction of the cost of one in Canada, as well as sip a coffee in a mall cafe where the non smoking section and smoking were in fact, hilariously the same section, seems to be enough to justify it. I am here for lack of any better place or anything better to do - No fixed career or anything to tie me down means I am free to experience the good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between, and of course, the extremities of the experience provide a plethora of things to be inspired to write about. Which is basically my one true passion, and hopefully will one day be my actual career.

So, why am I in Cairo ?? Well...why would I NOT be in Cairo?

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