Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Grand Apartment Saga (part 1)

Two entries within one week?! What? Well this is a special occasion as finally, finally I can report that the lease on the dream apartment I mentioned before is signed, sealed, and paid up! Cool room mates have been located, and have generously sent along the required deposits to seal the deal. I will get the keys tomorrow when they are done fixing up one of the air conditioners. I can now breathe a sigh of relief, pack my stuff, and recount to you the ridiculous saga that was getting to this point. It's horribly long, so I'll break it up with other posts to avoid annoying everyone and so you can skip the posts if it bothers you. Yes I do have to tell my story, darnit!

Part 1:

I once had a beautiful dream of living in Maadi. It is the quiet, tree-lined, foreigner-riddled, expensive part of Cairo that managed to squash my white, affluent guilt and my embarrassment over "not living in real Cairo, like a real hardcore traveler or student," with it's great charm and promise of giving me somewhere comfortable to return back to at the end of the day. With rents there being significantly less of what I would pay back home in Oakland, I decided to stow the guilt over the price tag and found that I was okay with getting somewhere nice and paying more than the Cairo standard. Not to mention living in that area would cut my commute to AUC in half, which is a feat worth moving for. So I made it known to my Cairo friends that I was looking for a new place in Maadi and kept an eye on the Cairo Scholars (CS) listserv to see if anyone was posting any ads.

As soon as I started to look on CS of course, all the postings I had seen with titles like, "room mate wanted in Maadi," or "2 Bedroom flat available in Maadi from Aug. 17" completely dried up. I poked around a little bit, not looking that hard because my rent wasn't up in Zamalek for a bit, when my good friend Mina said his friend had an apartment in Maadi for me to go look at. About the same time as this, I was getting in touch with a kind Italian guy from CS regarding a room he had for rent near El Maadi station that sounded appealing too.

Unfortunately this was the week of hell during which I was rather sick, but the day we went to go check out the place I was on an upswing and thought I was good to go. That morning I did a bunch of wrangling at the Mugamma to get my visa extended, which makes for an interesting adventure, but I was still game enough for what would become the first of many trips out to Sakanat El Maadi. As it turns out, Mina's friend was a Bawwab on street 200 and knew of a nice empty flat in the building, but he wasn't there that day, so after doing the 20 minute metro ride and 10 minute walk in the blazing sun we had nothing else to do but turn around and go home.

I'm having a hard time remembering everything, but I do believe this was also the day Mina refused to let me pay the expensive cab fare home from Maadi and insisted we take the Metro downtown. Normally this would not be a problem, but I was dehydrated, hungry, sick, and frankly probably on the verge of heatstroke. I persevered through the Metro ride, but then I started to tell the boys I needed to be somewhere where I had air conditioning and something to drink. I am not usually one to get too bitchy too quick, so most of my older friends know that when I start saying I "need" something I don't mean in 15 minutes or that I will walk ten more blocks, I mean NOW. Somehow I made it to Talat Harb Mall with Mina holding my hand the entire way because my vision was literally coming out in white spots like I was going to faint and I was completely lightheaded. Falafel, lukewarm air conditioning, and an orange Fanta could have definitely arrived more than a second sooner!

Oh, but round 2 came quickly enough, this time while I was deep into my 5-day course of medication that meant I couldn't eat anything except soup. Blood sugar low, faint with lack of proper nutrition (I have insisted my whole life that "Soup is NOT food"), and bitchy with the fact that I had scheduled my walk through of Mina's place and the Italian guy's place on the same day but 5 hours apart, I rolled into Maadi to meet up with Mina. Then came the apartment hunting part--you see, I had been duped into thinking they were just going to show me the one place.

Let me enlighten you into how apartment hunting actually works here and how you should do it: Deal with the bawwabs, and bring an Arabic and English speaking friend. Once you figure out an area or a street you're interested in start asking around with the bawwabs because they know which apartments are open, what the landlady/lord is like, how much the place will cost, and will help you negotiate because it means a better commission for them from you. This is more than a fair trade off as you will see, but in return be prepared to be run around to view every open flat in every building on the street until you say "Khalas!" It can be pretty fun, chatting with various bawwabs (including the guy who had adopted us named Hassan), while window shopping around for just the right place, but after awhile in the afternoon heat I started to falter. Plus, no where seemed quite as good as the very first place I viewed. It was a gorgeous three bedroom with nice furniture, lots of amenities you rarely see (a dryer, a microwave, gasp!), and I was more or less in love with it at first sight--it would be mine! We went back, I took pictures, and they promised to hold it for us as long as I got back to them by the end of the week.

I visited the Italian guy's place that night, and it was indeed very nice, but I just had to have that place on road 200. I started posting on CS. I had Mina post to facebook groups. I begged my friends to fly over from the US...I was excited but optimistic, and so were the myriad people who responded. Their quick replies to my posts made me think I would have no trouble finding two room mates, but then one by one everyone dropped off because of the price.

Now I can half understand of course, we are all living on a budget and everything, and I get the whole wanting to not break the bank as well as the next person. What I couldn't understand was why everyone around me was turning down a rent amount that would buy me approximately half a shoebox in California. It didn't seem so astronomical to me, just expensive by Cairo standards, so I wasn't expecting all my leads to drop one by one.

Which is about the time when I last posted saying that everything had pretty much fallen through. I had just received a call that my strongest possibility so far had canceled partially because of the large security deposit but also because of gendered living space issues. I think it was partially that, but I got the distinct vibe it was because of my age. One thing I can't help is my age, and trust I do try not to live up to those digits, but when it comes out how old I actually am people get a little weird and a little shifty. People don't want their lease being handled by some girl that age. I told Mina I had pretty much given up, but we soldiered on and I continued to field the requests that came my way, now throwing those dollar signs at them no longer apologetically, but aggressively like a dare.

To be continued...

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