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The Aggravation of Appliances

Ah, Cairo life. We’ve been back nearly a week and logistics continue to take up most of our time. Let me back up for a minute and say I’m loving it here. I love the challenge of penetrating a new culture. I love getting to know a new neighborhood. And making new friends. I am the happiest I’ve been in a long time.

But, gosh, nothing is easy here.

Somehow, none of it is bothering me—yet. Not the power outages, not the lack of furniture, not even the army of ants we’re sharing the villa with. None of it—except maybe the time our Internet went out shortly after we got it switched on—after four separate trips to the store and hours of hours on the phone with customer service (on Oliver’s part). The little adjusting-to-life-in-Cairo brochure they give you at the Community Services Association, a great resource for expat and the source of the closest drinkable cappuccino, warns that one should expect to only achieve a third of what sets out to do each day. Given our experience here, that seems ambitious.

Oliver has been great. The week the boys and I were gallivanting in Italy, he was trying to put the house together, all with a 7 p.m. curfew in place and a strict directive not to leave the neighborhood because it was potentially too dangerous further afield. Internet access was at the top of his list. I think he made two visits to the provider’s offices while we were gone, maybe three. When we came home he told me he’d been promised it would be switched on that day.

Fantastic. Only when I went to plug in the router I realized we didn’t have a modem. The next day, while I was out, Oliver got back on the phone with customer service. He spent two hours—maybe longer—on the phone with them. No one bothered to ask if he had a modem.

So the next day he went back to the store. Of course you need a modem, they told him. But they wouldn’t sell him one because he didn’t have a copy of his passport with him. So he went to three other stores. Curfew was nearing. No modem. He had to go back again to the Internet place the following day.

Finally we had Internet. But then the landline got knocked out. So we got back on the phone to customer service—I did, this time—and answered a litany of inane questions, such as, “What browser are you using?” and “Do you have the cord plugged in?” I did not have Oliver’s patience and, after irrelevant question #20 or so, asked for a supervisor. The supervisor told me that the problem was with Egypt Telecom, but not to worry, they would take care of it. An hour later we had no phone line and no working Internet. Welcome to Cairo.

I had read accounts of people being left in our situation for months on end, but Oliver got on the phone with customer service and in a few hours we were up and running. So, aside from the occasional lapse in service, we have Internet in the house, which means our Vonage works, which means our old 212 number works and is a local call from the US.

It’s not just getting wired that’s a challenge. The stove was delivered a few days ago but the delivery guys didn’t put the legs on or assemble the hobs. Oliver deciphered the Arabic numbers on what he thought was the receipt and had some very stern words for the guy on the other end telling him he had to send his crew back to finish the job. About 10 minutes later he got a confused call from the man we bought the boys’ mattresses from telling Oliver he didn’t understand what it was we wanted put together. Oops. So we asked the bawab (a doorman/super), who told Oliver that the delivery people don’t do that, the gas company does it when they come hook up the stove. Of course.

The dishwasher has been equally difficult to get working, but this appliance came with a dose of violence. The Zanussi guy didn’t come until a good week after he was supposed to. I couldn’t understand exactly what he was trying to tell me when he was here, so once again I turned to the bawab. There was some kerfuffle over a missing bag of dishwasher salt. I don’t fully understand what happened, but I heard the bawab telling him there would be no tip for him.

Zanussi guy left in a huff—supposedly finished with the job—and I went to pick up the boys from school. I heard some yelling when I got to the end of the street, and turned around in time to see Zanussi man jump the bawab. The two of them were in the middle of a full-on brawl when two local security guards jumped in and pulled them apart. High drama.

We checked in with the bawab when we got home. He was okay, apart from a torn shirt, but he had taken a sharp fist to the left eye. To top it all off? Zanussi guy didn’t even secure the hose, so water squirts all over whenever you run the dishwasher, and if you touch the metal door on the inside, you get little electric shocks.

And yet….the boys think their new school is the best ever and tell anyone who asks that they are enjoying Egypt, so it’s tough for me to get too ruffled about any of these little things when, so far, the transition has been such an easy one for all of us.

And oh….we have a new member of our household. Meet Samy.

Our latest addition.

Our latest addition.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Glad things are going so well, Monique, and that the boys are happy with their school. Just curious: do renters typically buy/bring their own dishwashers and stoves in Cairo? Or is it a brand-new building? Also wondering if you and Oliver are dealing with English-speaking customer service people or trying to get by in Arabic. Be well and stay safe! Jodi

    September 2, 2013
    • In Cairo, you can rent a place fully furnished; semi-furnished, which means it comes with major appliances; or unfurnished, which means you have to supply your own. This place was semi-furnished, but the previous tenants had taken many of the appliances with them, so the landlord had to have new ones installed for us.

      Language is a mishmash. We’ve had a few service people who speak a little bit of English, but mostly they don’t, which is why we’ve had to rely on the bawab and now our housekeeper for translation help.

      Hope all is well on your end!

      September 3, 2013
  2. PJ #

    Sounds like everything is pretty NORMAL! Haaaa. Having lived around the world (the last place was Azerbaijan) it all sounds normal to me anyway! We had 2 internet providers in Azerbaijan so when one wasn’t working we could just switch to the other one -in hopes that it would be working! I usually set out to do ONE thing a day. It may be just finding tin foil, or paying the electric bill, or finding something that wasn’t mystery meat. Quite challenging but the best times and memories of my life. Our children LOVED living abroad – the schools were fantastic – and they have many friends around the world. Vonage is wonderful!

    September 6, 2013
  3. Your style is so unique compared to other people I have read stuff from.
    Many thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this web site.

    June 24, 2014
  4. Oh my goodness. As we prepare to move to Cairo this August, it appears that my biggest fears will all involve electricity!

    April 18, 2015
    • I’ll be leaving in August and will have emergency lights and fans that I’ll no longer need!

      April 18, 2015
      • We will arrive around mid August which may be too late to buy them from you? Will you be gone by then? Also what kitchen supplies would you recommend bringing with you? I saw that you returned to the States a few times and brought things back with you. Thanks.

        April 18, 2015
      • I’m leaving mid-August, probably around the 15th. As for kitchen supplies, you can get most everything here, although the really good stuff is more expensive. But there’s a Carrefour and now an Ikea and a few other stores like that where you can get pretty much everything you need–it just might not be the highest quality.

        April 18, 2015
      • Yes, that is about the time we will arrive but probably cutting it too close to co-ordinate. Thanks though. One other question though – we will be looking for an apartment in Maadi. Is there any area in M. that you would recommend or not recommend? Is there a downside to a furnished place? A concern about bedbugs etc? I don’t have a lot of time to get settled so concerned about an unfurnished place. Thanks so much.

        April 18, 2015
      • I’ve never heard about a bedbug problem. Where in Maadi will you be teaching? If you’re not going to have a car, try to live in Degla or Sakinat. I think a furnished place is fine, as long as you get pictures of the furniture. Beds here can be uncomfortable, if they’re the old Egyptian cotton mattresses. Feel free to email me at if you have specific questions. And good luck with the move!

        April 20, 2015
      • Thanks for replying. I will be teaching in New Cairo but think I would prefer to live in Maadi. I won’t have a car. I hate driving even in Canada!

        April 20, 2015
  5. You’ll want to take into account your commute, but then anywhere in Degla or Sakinat should be fine. It’s all really safe and pleasant. Get the map they give out at the CSA. Anywhere around CAC below the big green space of Victory College and the Satellite Station should be fine and, on the other side of the trakcs, anywhere from Street 81 downward should be okay. Around road 9 things start getting a little less residential and busier, but most of the streets from 11 upward and pretty quiet. These are rough parameters, but should be a decent start.

    April 20, 2015

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