Renting and venting

Posted on August 29, 2006


In a show of astonishing crazyhood, M is moving here (the boyfriend, you know). He got a job and everything – for a year! He claims it’s not because he’s a lovelorn calf/international stalker, and that he needs developing country experience to further his dream career with the World Bank, but still, right? Nutso, at best. Anyway, so I’m finding him an apartment. This has naturally exposed me to many avenues of embarrassment and annoyance and awkwardness previously not experienced by me. I also hate apartment hunting in general – it’s one of the worst things about being an adult.

So it seems that the way one usually goes about renting for a foreigner in Egypt is first by checking the AUC bulletin board, and then by simply asking bawabs in the area of choice. I asked one bawab, heard a sick price, and abandoned that path. The bulletin board yielded mixed results: a lot of the places had already been rented, and one woman was enormously rude to me when I spoke to her in Arabic even though I explained that the apartment was for the whitest possible guy, a real agnabi. She said when he got here he could call her. When I pointed out that he didn’t want to be homeless when he got here, she said she had no places available, and then I hung up on her, making a small note next to her number, rude cow.

Eventually, having looked at one apartment where the owner had severe mouth odour and where the fixtures were stuck on with masking tape, and another which cost an enormous bundle and involved me taking a teenage boy quite seriously as a landlord, I decided to find a semsar. In this case, he was a proper real estate agent. I met him outside Cilantro in Zamalek. He was 15 minutes late. I should have taken customary Egyptian lateness into account, of course. It turns out that not only should I have factored in Egyptian time, but also Sudanese time, which is bound to be longer. As a result of my negligent timekeeping, I actually asked a totally random man who was standing around if he was the agent, to his evident discomfort; and I also waved at another guy who I thought might be him, who – despite his astonishment – nevertheless managed to ask me for directions to La Bodega, to which I pointed wordlessly in mortification. But hey, I think it was reasonable to assume he was the guy, as I had called him and he hung up on me, which I took to mean that he was within sight, and then I turned to see this guy talking on a cell phone. Or…maybe not reasonable? Not known for well-thought-out actions, here.

So we traversed Zamalek looking at apartments, where I giggled to myself at his overzealous deployment of the letter P – the word pathroom was mentioned, among others. Particularly amusing when he confided to me that his Arabic wasn’t actually that great – “el 3arabi beta3i fil 7eit aslan”. I asked, did he come from somewhere in Sudan where they don’t speak Arabic? and ran a couple Sudanese dialects by him. But then I began to see that he was implying that English was his powerful tongue, and I found it more tactful to leave that be.

I kind of found one I liked, but I actually think the landlady might have been the cunty woman who dismissed my coarse nile-infused blood on the phone. I think she was appeased, however, by my indicating partial ancestry from El Minya, which inexplicably seemed to guarantee the production of a real live foreigner.

What, by the way, do you think of my recent decision to expand the use of the word cunt? I think it’s precisely the sort of word one needs to describe many aspects of Egypt. It’s so satisfyingly unpleasant to the ear and succinct keda. I tried it out on a coworker of mine by the printer, which is our equivalent of the water cooler. This particular chick is Canadian and has shown an affinity for strong language in the past, unlike most of the people in my office. She was asking me about certain members of AUC staff, and I remarked, “They do tend to be cunts over there.”


“Did I just hear what I thought I heard?”

“Cunts? Yes.”

“Does that mean what I think it means?”


“Um, OK…. I don’t think I can use that word. I can’t believe you just said that.”

“It’s the same as bitches really…but that’s OK, I’ll just use it.”

Come on! I think we should take it back, like the word nigger. Although I really disapprove of that as an ‘empowerment tool’ or whatever, by the way. But if we’re going to call people dickheads and pricks and pussies then it’s only fair, no? At least, this is my brand of feminism.

I also may have observed in a training seminar, that same day, that a certain judge pulled some reasoning out of his ass. The seminar leader mildly said, after trying manfully to conceal his discomfort, “Yes, out of his ass…but how would you phrase that in High Court language?”

Must start being more professional at work.