Expat wife/expat life: it's not all fun and games

There are times when living in Egypt can just get too much. Everything becomes a headache, far more stressful than it usually is and expletives become common vocabulary.

The longer I’ve been here the less it happens. That, however, just leaves me with further to fall when it does.

Since Summer 2005 I have been visiting the pool of Cairo’s Grand Hyatt. There are not many places to go swimming in Cairo and even less once you remove the pools where an inch of skin will attract a gaggle of ogling male eyes. A dip didn’t come cheap, but it was worth every penny, particularly because this price also included access to the jacuzzi, steam room and sauna.

With temperatures of 38C right now, Mr S and I recently made our first appearance at the pool this year. All was going well until I asked if the steam room was working and then told, in front of another guest and in a tone that suggested I was trying to sneak in for free, that I could not use these facilities if I had only paid for the pool.

Off to get showered and leave, the same attendant managed to walk in on my shower. Apparently accidentally (it was the only one that was occupied..).

I made a complaint and tried to explain that if someone was thought to be using the spa area without paying, either talking to them ALONE or informing them at reception as they left that they would not be able to do so again without paying would probably be a better way to go. The response? Apparently it was my fault for misunderstanding four years ago what the deal was. Yep. Absolutely, totally, perfect sense.

And not very 5 star. So, most definitely the last time we go there. Which means, I have lost my escape in Cairo, my bastion of serenity. This was a devastating blow. There are so few places where you can get everything you want under one roof here, and for them not to be overcrowded too.

Next came some more water cuts.

Then, the following day when I forgot I’d left the tap on in the bathroom sink (and we actually had water). I rushed back to turn it off (from an ecological point of view) only to find that the sink had overflowed.

This was not because the sink has no overflow pipe. Oh no. It is there, or rather the hole in the sink is there, however there isn’t actually a pipe. There isn’t a pipe, because someone had the bright idea of blocking up the overflow hole instead. Unfortunately for my things in the cupboard below, they didn’t even manage to do a good job of it and from having no water mere hours before, I then had a flood in the cupboard and the bathroom floor.

Flipping fantastic.

The strange thing is, that when one of these periods starts, it doesn’t give up until it is well and truly tired (note: that has nothing to do with whether you are tired of it or not).

And despite living here for all this time, the bottom line still is (only when I have water you understand), “At least it is sunny.” I mean, come on, it could be far worse: sleet.

The relationship between Amy Winehouse's hair and Cairo water

There is an unwritten law that water cuts only occur at the worst moments. In Jordan it would happen without fail every time I returned from the desert, covered in a pale orange dust. Sometimes it would just not be on when I returned and other times it would let me get in the shower, half lather up and then just stop.

In Egypt it is usually on the hottest days. Now, that doesn’t just mean the stickiest days of Summer, but the warmest days for that season. And always, always, always, it is when you need it least to happen.

Like yesterday.

And today.

In fairness they haven’t been total stoppages for the most part, but there has not been more than a dribble from the showers.

This morning, I heard a definite gush of water as Mr S turned on the shower with pressure to rival any power shower (we don’t have one) and relaxed happy to know I could get a decent clean today, not just a spit and a lick.

I took my time, ready to enjoy the feeling of getting clean that incrementally increases the dirtier you are. I prepared my clothes, got my favourite creams and brushed, brushed, brushed away, at my hair turning the curls bushier-looking than ever before and stepped into the shower.

Tsssssssssss.

A mere dribble from the shower and definitely not enough to penetrate the hedge on my head.

And so it is that today, my modest crop of hair has turned into a beehive to beat Amy’s any day (or night) of the week.

You know you've been in Cairo a long time when (21-30):

21. When asked, “Do you know the way to X?” you answer yes and point in the first direction your hand finds.

22. You can’t remember the last time you used a credit card to pay for something in a shop.

23. You take your three year old, your five year old and your seven year old to see the midnight showing of Kill Bill 2.

24. You go to the movies in order to sit and chat with your friend for an hour and a half.

25. You can’t watch a movie without an interval.

26. You can’t find a wallet big enough to carry the wads of cash you now have in your bag.

27. You refer to any hair colour other than pitch black as blonde.

28. You routinely answer no when asked if you have any change at the shop.

29. You know that the shop actually has change, even though they’re asking for yours.

30. You do not consider linen trousers or skirts for the summer – you’ve experienced too many unsightly wet patches on the behind after sitting down.

You know you've been in Cairo a long time when (21-30):

21. When asked, “Do you know the way to X?” you answer yes and point in the first direction your hand finds.

22. You can’t remember the last time you used a credit card to pay for something in a shop.

23. You take your three year old, your five year old and your seven year old to see the midnight showing of Kill Bill 2.

24. You go to the movies in order to sit and chat with your friend for an hour and a half.

25. You can’t watch a movie without an interval.

26. You can’t find a wallet big enough to carry the wads of cash you now have in your bag.

27. You refer to any hair colour other than pitch black as blonde.

28. You routinely answer no when asked if you have any change at the shop.

29. You know that the shop actually has change, even though they’re asking for yours.

30. You do not think linen trousers or skirts are clothes for the summer – you know it just results in unsightly wet patches on the behind after sitting down.

You know you've been in Egypt a long time when.. (11-20)

11. You have guests over for dinner and prepare a banquet. And that’s only for the starter.

12. You get offended when your guests say they are full and put more on their plates.

13. You wonder why on earth Westerners are so rude when acquaintances pass you in the street and only nod acknowledgment or perhaps manage a short, ‘Hi”.

14. You start every meeting asking how people’s families are, their extended families are, how they are and how their work is going.

15. You say yes when asked any question.

16. You don’t worry whether the affirmative answer means you can do what you have just been asked to or not.

17. You return to Europe/North America and get embarrassed in the newsagents when you see the likes of Nuts and Loaded on the shelf.

18. When back in the West you can’t help noticing women’s cleavages when doing the shopping, you can’t stop staring at them – and you’re a straight woman.

19. You nearly have a heart attack when you see a female ‘crack’ from low rise jeans. I mean, what part of fashion did you miss?

20. You look at your shoulders in the mirror at home and wonder if they will ever see the light of day again.

You know you've been in Egypt a long time when.. (1-10)

1. You view the pavement with disdain, as it takes up space where cars could park.

2. You walk on the three lane road during rush hour rather than the pavement.

3. You pull out into the centre of a junction before stopping to see if cars are coming.

4. You toot your horn at every junction.

5. You wonder what the white lines down the centre of the road are for.

6. You toot your horn half way between every junction.

7. You forget what the point in having wing mirrors is and wonder who invented these things that are just there to get broken

8. You put your windscreen wipers up in summer when you park so they don’t melt on the windscreen.

9. You toot your horn just for the hell of it.

10. You can read a book in the back of a black and white taxi from Maadi to Zamalek, Dokki to Heliopolis and Nasr City to Haram for the entire journey without noticing the driving techniques in use around you.

Life in Egypt is never boring (so don't read if you're sensitive)

“Oh no, oh no! Oh no, I don’t believe it! I DON’T BELIEVE IT,’ I was suddenly yelling to my friend down the phone, ‘There’s a guy taking a shit on the roof next door!”

“What?!” she yelled.

“Oh, no. No, he’s not. He’s not. He’s..?” and I couldn’t exactly figure out what was going on.

The workman in a galabeya (long robe thing) was squatting down and had pulled down his longjohns.

“I don’t know what he’s.. Oh my goodness!”

“What is it?!” she yelled at me.

“I can’t believe it! Oh my GOODNESS!”

“Whaaaaaaaaaaat?!”

“He’s washing his…diiick! And…,” Now, there are some things I will probably never blog about, but let’s just say I wasn’t a virgin when I met Mr S, “…he’s hung like a bloody HORSE!!”

Yep, on the roof opposite me, one of the workmen had taken five minutes when (I’m guessing) he knew nobody else would be up, and used the water brought up for mixing cement to wash his very long, very fat manhood in broad daylight, at the start of his ablutions before noon prayers.

The sight is unfortunately impressed on the inside of my eyelids.

A week's activity

My quietness has been induced by the sort of cold that turns your brain to the colour and texture of mushy peas.

It hasn’t stopped all sorts of strange things going on in the world around me, and unfortunately I wasn’t hallucinating. First there was the all day power cut, somewhat of a pain because I couldn’t snuggle up on the sofa in front of rubbish daytime TV. The next day, there was a water cut. Fantastic really. Then the phone line was cut while I was talking to someone. No idea what happened, but guessing that someone in the Sentraaaal pulled out the wrong plug, or changed the wrong switch – and not for the first time. So, no home internet, but thanks to a local embassy that has a named and unsecured wireless connection, I could hop online and at least listen to Radio 4.

The piece de la resistance came yesterday morning, when (phone line and internet connection working again) the internet service provider (well, service in its loosest form) sent a notification that we owe money for October and for November. Had, in September, we not paid three months in advance, I would have no quibble, but given that we did, that this was the third time we received the message and that after visiting the branch office we were provided with a paper that said the company owed us money, I was quibbling rather strongly.
So, it was with great delight that this morning I found a Customer Experience Survey in my inbox. Rubbing my hands with glee, I opened it. Check out this cracker:

What method of notification would you prefer? (Rate the below methods of notification according to you preference: 1 is highest, 0 is not applicable)

E-mail 0 1 2 3
SMS 0 1 2 3
Notification Page 0 1 2 3
Other: 0 1 2 3

I’m not altogether sure what 2 and 3 are doing. Probably likely that it goes something like this: Email – 0 not applicable, 1 highest, 2 lower, 3 lowest. Alongside stationary, questionnaires are up there with my favourite things. Badly designed questionnaires are like fingernails down an old chalk blackboard.

Given that this company doesn’t have a complaints department, or anybody who can actually deal with complaints in Customer Services (according to a call centre worker when I asked before), I’m not sure if there’s too much point in filling it out. I will, however, tick some boxes in the hope that (as USAID and similar organisations plan) perhaps something as simple as consumer rights might one day lead to democracy.

Not, of course, that there isn’t a democracy here already.