Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Grand Apartment Saga (part 2)

Where did we leave off? Oh yes, I was in despair and binging on cake while flailing about trying to find room mates, right. Well while flailing about and sending facebook messages after emails and being thrown potential roomies (who were just simply everyone and anyone, regardless of if we had similar interests or could possibly get along) by Mina I was being propped up by a steady stream of encouragement by the boyfriend and a rather large amount of processed sugar.

Then it happened—some room mates finally came along! AUC students? Yeah. Female? Yeah. Studying International Relations?! Yes! However, they were thinking of living in or near Zamalek because they have a friend in the dorms…and I had to be honest with them about how long it took to Zamalek (10-15 min walking, 20 min metro ride, 5 min cab ride), and I did tell them what I liked about Maadi, but ended up recommending they should probably live in Mohandiseen or Dokki as both are closer to Zamalek than Maadi is and a bit cheaper.

However, they were undeterred and asked me to look in to if the apartment was still up for rent. I had Mina make the calls, and then we began to commence negotiations. If this sounds like the beginning of a major undertaking, it’s completely true! We headed back to Street 200, Mina over-dressed and me rather underdressed to start arguing with the landlady (over the phone) about the price of the apartment, if utilities were included, and all that wonderful stuff. We arrived at the flat, and Sallah, the awesome bawwab, took us up so we could sit in the air-conditioned palace that I was hoping could be my new Cairo home. Then, they argued. Mina spoke rapidly and loudly in Arabic on the phone for an extensive period of time, chopping the monthly price back from the $1500 requested to $1300. We were determined to get $1200 though and Sallah knew it, so he motioned for us to shut up, grabbed the phone and started walking out on to the balcony, saying something along the lines of, “look, lady, these assholes are going to walk so you better talk business here.” He returned triumphant, and I continued just smiling and looking charming on the sofa while we haggled over the remaining bits and pieces such as when I would move in (which would prove a major point of contention later, stay tuned), if utilities were included (big fat NO there), and so on. I sat and sat and bugged Mina to keep me updated in English about the status of the arguing and pontificating.

Finally we reached a conclusion, but she wanted a substantial amount of money in check or cash form and she wanted it today, which just wasn’t possible as I didn’t have the money in my bank account at the time. Sallah offered to lend me what money he had, which was so shocking, but is really indicative of what kind of society I’ve been living in here. Sometimes the generosity of people in Egypt makes me feel like I can never leave, but I digress!

This is the snapshot of the negotiations that went on for…oh I don’t know, say like two weeks? We’d get one thing nailed down and then something else would crop up. I was supposed to “come sign the contract tomorrow,” for easily fifteen days if not more. One of the major points of annoyance was that the landlady really wanted me to move in on August 1st, but I point-blank refused to let her make me pay for that full month, which would be especially unfair to my room mates arriving later. How did we avoid the problem? Well, we stalled until it was after the 1st of course!

One thing after another prevented me from going and signing the contract on my dream apartment, and I was worrying because I wanted to assure my potential future room mates that we had a place nailed down. First I left for Alexandria, then when I returned Mina’s sister had a baby so he wasn’t available, then I got sick yet again, and then the worst of worst happened…she wanted three months in advance. In cash.

That’s right, $3600 in cold, hard cash.

I immediately recalled what “The Cairo Practical Guide” had said about banks being able to bypass your daily limit and make withdrawals, so every day for about three days I woke up at a reasonable hour, put on my tourist sandals, and trudged from major international bank to major international bank in the mid-summer Cairo heat hoping that one of them could make the necessary transaction. HSBC? No, mish mumkin. CIB? Sorry, not here. On and on and if I happened to be too late the bank would be closed and I’d grumble and make a note to try that one again tomorrow and trudge on the to the next. Nothing, nada, ziltch. By this point I was withdrawing up to my daily limit every day at the ATMs, in between being on conference calls with my (again, extremely patient) boyfriend Ramy, and Mina trying to figure out something, but crunching along restricted by my daily limit just wasn’t gonna cut it, and I wanted the apartment bad.

Finally I called my parents. I whined and complained and had them call my bank, who gave them the international number for customer service. I called my bank, and after some “oh so you’re in Egypt right NOW?” conversations I got my daily limit raised to $1000, which was an improvement but I really wanted to go sign like, yesterday. I scurried from ATM to ATM that day, but then when I went to go the next day I realized that—oh crap—they’d only put the new limit on for one day. Cue me whipping out my cell in front of yet another ATM and calling the US, because that number was supposed to accept the charges for international calls, right? Not so much…as I found out when I was disconnected once and my balance popped up revealing that this phone call had cost me upwards of 30LE, which made me grind my teeth, call back, and speak asfastaspossible to make sure the new limit was permanent.

Finally, I had amassed a huge, ridiculous amount of cash in the lining of one of my suitcases. I glared at it and counted it repeatedly as Mina for the millionth over the phone said, “okay, so we will go sign tomorrow, wait for my call.”

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