copy Excellent Adventures in Egypt

Enter here to share Joni's adventures living and working in Cairo courtesy of the U.S. Fulbright cultural exchange program. Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of our civilization. - Mahatma Ghandi

9/17/2004

El-Baab It is fortunate that I was appropriately dressed when I locked myself out of the flat. Things would have been much touchier if I had been in my PJs. But I was in pants and shirt - no shoes, but that was easily remedied by a pair of the ubiquitous plastic flip-flop sandals that men shuffle around in, supplied - naturally - by the bawaab. (He probably took them off someone else's feet for the occasion.) Of course, everything I owned was inside the flat: wallet, cell phone, phone numbers, the all important muftaaH (key). and it was Friday morning, start of the weekend. so the Fulbright office was closed. What to do, I pondered, as I contemplated that grim and unyielding visage. I took my barefoot self down the stairs to Ibrahim the bawaab and made it understood that il baab shut itself (clap hands together) wa i- muftaaH (key) fee shaqqa (was in the apartment). This provoked a long discussion between the bawaab and one of his buddies hanging 'round to help supervise the construction underway in the ground floor flat next to the bawaab's tiny room. (It's more like a closet than a room - just big enough for a cot to fit inside. The TV and radio sit on an old kitchen chair strategically positioned just across from the pillow outside the door.) The buddy was all for jimmying the lock: was the lock out this far or this far? he asked, showing distances with his hands. (Il baab has 3 convenient lock settings: merely locked, deadbolt, and really, really locked - double deadbolt. ) My door was "merely locked," but the bawaab overruled the jimmying idea (thanks to god). Ibrahim made it known that he was going to get the landlord's phone number so he could come with a spare key. I was instructed to sit myself down on the other kitchen chair (reserved for the bawaab's visitors and guests) and wait. After about ten minutes, the bawaab re-appeared with a piece of paper and a Menatel card and we trudged across the street to the phonebox. He made a call, talked for a while, hung up and informed me that Mr. Malek was on his way. Where did he live, I asked? In MaSr Gidida - bai'd (far). Mr. Malek would get in his arabeyya (car) and (driving motions). I sighed and decided to take in the lovely Nile view across the street rather than perch on the visitor's chair listening to the rhythmic music of pounding on concrete while breathing the buddy's cigarette smoke. After a restful 30 minutes watching the water glide by, I was summoned back to the building to find poor Mr. Sameer, the Fulbright housing manager, emerging from a taxi. The landlord had done the sensible thing, avoiding disruption to his day off by dumping the problem on someone else. Sameer gave me a wry grin and commented that "the Nile is very beautiful today." After I returned the borrowed sandals, accompanied by a plate of cookies and baksheesh for the bawaab, I was roundly lectured by anyone who happened to be in the building foyer about always keeping the muftaaH in my pocket. But I was only putting out the rubbish, I later whined to Nevine. "You must get some heavy something to block open the door," she replied. "I thought I had it blocked by my tush," I answered. "No, (tut-tut), your tush is not big enough for an Egyptian door - you must gain a lot of weight." Ahmed told me later that I had just lived out a favorite scene in Egyptian movies - seems everybody gets locked out of their flats in Cairo. Posted by Hello

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