We are slowly putting in place the trappings of a normal life.
I accomplished a fair amount last week on the domestic front, although I don’t have much to show for it yet. I ordered a couch and commissioned a carpenter to make loft beds for the kids. The couch should take three weeks and the beds about a month.
The logistics of getting things done in Cairo haven’t gotten any less convoluted. The good news is, they still amuse me most of the time instead of driving me crazy. Living in the Soviet Union was good preparation for life in Egypt. It’s the same level of inanity, but at least here the people preventing you from accomplishing your goal for no apparent reason do so with a smile and are, for the most part, unarmed.
Sorting things out with officialdom or the various customer service departments involves, not surprisingly, spending a lot of time on hold. I’m always bemused when the agent gets back on the phone and issues the standard lost-in-translation line: “I’m so sorry for being late.”
One of the many companies whose hold music I had the pleasure of listening to this week was Etisalat, my cell phone service provider. In fact, I dealt with them on two separate issues. The first one was to address the many text messages I’d received in Arabic. I had no idea if they were warning me that my service was about to be turned off or what other dire notice they might contain. So I called the English-language customer service line, told the representative I was getting text messages in Arabic and asked her if she knew what information the company might be trying to relay.
“Your texts are set to be delivered in English,” she said.
“I know, but you are sending me texts in Arabic,” I replied.
“Well, we have it set to English.”
“Yes. That’s the problem. They’re still in Arabic.”
“What do they say?” she asked, still not fully grasping the issue.
“I don’t know,” I answered, trying not to get exasperated. “That’s what I’m trying to find out. They’re in Arabic and I can’t read Arabic.”
“Well, we have it set to English.”
And so on. I eventually gave up.
I had a similar encounter over my bill. I received a text message—this one in English—warning me that my service would be disconnected if I didn’t pay my bill in three days. So I went to the bank—one of the acceptable places to pay one’s bill—and they told me I needed to go to the Etisalat store. I didn’t bother to ask why. Only the store near me had closed, the nice man at the bank warned me. So I called customer service to find out if that was true, and the agent told me I had an account surplus and should ignore the text they sent me telling me I owed them money. Go figure. I am sure my phone will be turned off any day now.
Dealing with the bank has also been an adventure. I had to apply to get an account, then wait five days to see if I would be approved. I got a call saying I had been and was given a rather dubious-seeming account number on the phone. Very few digits. I was given no paperwork, no nothing. An ATM card required a separate application. Someone will supposedly come to my house to deliver my PIN code, and another person will come to deliver my ATM card. Likewise a checkbook and a password for the online banking system. The craziest thing is that the checkbooks allow you to write checks in any currency—you just specify which one you want next to the amount.
Finally, we get to matters feline. The missing kittens turned up across the street. Their mother had moved them to a bigger, fancier villa with a swimming pool. I can’t blame her, really.
But no sooner did we figure out where they were than we found a teeny tiny little guy—he couldn’t have been more than a month old—whose mother didn’t seem to be taking care of him. So we spent five days giving him kitten milk and kitten food and basically falling in love. And then, one day, he was gone.
I asked the bawab across the street where the kitten went and he just kept saying “Korean woman, Korean woman.” There’s a big building up the street that a bunch of Korean families with young children live in. I’m hoping one of them adopted him. I miss him, but I think it’s probably for the best. He didn’t look healthy and needed some serious veterinary care. And with our two cats, I wasn’t going to be able to let him come live with us in the house. I was already wondering how he’d survive when we left.
I keep waiting for the inevitable crash of homesickness, but while the boys talk about missing their friends in New York and want to talk to them on the phone as much as possible, they continue to love their new school. T told me this weekend that he thinks being here has made him more appreciative of what he has. Even if that’s all he gets out of his time in Cairo, it will have been time well spent.