rushed to get a newsletter off which you should be receiving shortly.
Actually, according to our timing we should have sent it in September
but that was a very busy month for us.
come to the end of another busy week but we have to continually
learn not have high expectations on what to do each day. Wednesday
last week was a very frustrating day. I set out to do three main
things- extend our air ticket return date to next year, fix my
computer and get a haircut. I started the day by going early to
the airport to visit the Olympic Airways office. Taxi rides to
the airport are always expensive, not because of the distance
but because the drivers know that the people who go there are
rich and can pay more. After a small disagreement with the taxi
driver I managed to get into the building and find the office.
All the other airline offices were open, Olympic were the only
one closed! I enquired at the information desk about the whereabouts
of the Olympic airlines representative, she replied that the only
time when someone is present is when there is a flight, and the
next flight was at seven o'clock that evening.
decided to return later, but in the meantime I had to wait around
for a bus to take me back. Taxis are expensive getting to the
airport but going from the airport they are even more expensive.
As I've told many people here, taxi drivers are nothing more than
pickpockets who let you use your own hands.
arrived back at lunch time and had a quick meal. Later I took
my computer to the repair shop- I had a good idea what the problem
was but I didn't have the equipment to test it out. At the repair
shop I was told to take a seat while the guy did the testing,
"This shouldn't take long sir . . ." I waited with Hannah in reception.
The guy who should have been doing the repair kept on coming out
of the room to do other tasks. In computing terms he was multitasking,
an expression that means doing more than one thing at a time.
Well, more accurately it means only doing one thing at a time
but when you change the thing that you're trying to do often enough
it gives the impression of doing many things at a time. The more
you live in this culture the more you realise that Egyptians are
very good at multitasking and this guy was no exception.
also see multitasking in places like metro stations. If the ticket
seller doesn't have enough change then the person who bought the
ticket will wait around until someone else pays with the right
amount in change then the ticket seller will pay him back. Sometimes
there will be five or six guys all waiting for change and the
ticket seller will effortlessly keep track on who to pay next
and how much. He will also deal with queries and complaints, giving
each person a small time slice at frequent intervals but never
giving any one person attention to the exclusion of everyone else.
The Western mind would find this confusing, we can't multitask.
We prefer to keep things simple and do one thing at a time.
patiently waiting a long time at the computer repair shop I realised
that my computer wasn't getting the frequent time slot that it
needed and that is why it was taking so long. You can't work against
this system because it is embedded in the culture. To give one
person or project exclusive attention means having to ignore others
which would be impolite. The guy finally called me into the room
to show it working. Unfortunately it wasn't- he had just exchanged
one problem for another. He apologised and said that it was time
for him to go home anyway so I had to return again in the morning
. . . I tried to hold back my tears. I managed to get home in
time for tea, no time for the haircut.
quickly ate then went to the airport to extend the tickets. Unfortunately
there still wasn't anyone in the office that I needed although
there was a flight at that time. The lady at the information desk
explained that there was another office in the city centre that
would be able to help. I spoke on the phone to an airline representative
who confirmed that there would be people present the next day
for definite. He gave me the address and the phone number. I took
the bus back home a bit disappointed with the whole day. I had
achieved a BIG ZERO. Nothing accomplished- the day had been a
complete non-starter. No airline tickets, no computer and no haircut.
next day I achieved everything but the haircut! I went to the
city centre with Hannah with the intention of finding the Olympic
airline office. All I had was an address and a vague idea of where
to go. After walking for a bit I realised that I needed more than
a vague idea. You always have to be careful when asking for directions
in Egypt. No one wants to look ignorant so even if the person
doesn't know he will always give you SOME directions even if they
aren't right. Whilst pondering what to do next someone passed
me by and said "Welcome to Egypt". This is a very common greeting
for a foreigner, and everyday I hear it several times from complete
strangers. I usually just reply "Thanks" but this time I decided
to take the opportunity to ask for directions. I answered in Arabic
"Thank you, can you tell me where Kaser el neel street is please"
replied in English
"Ah yes, I know just where it is. Follow me please . . . "
walked for about five minutes then he finally came to a shop.
It was a tourist-type shop full of tourist-things that tourists
buy and take back to their own countries. "I will show you where
the street is but please come into my shop first, I want to give
you and your daughter a drink."
alarm bells immediately rang in my head- "uh oh, tourist tout
alert!" These guys are experts at separating foreigners from their
money- in a completely different league even than taxi drivers.
They are very friendly and polite to begin with . . .
refuse hospitality would be an insult and would be likely to cause
a commotion in the street unless I could think of a good reason.
"I'd love to go into the shop and sit down, in fact I hope to
do so on the way back, but I really must go to the street first
because the office that I need to visit will close soon". This
is a typical Egyptian answer, a downright refusal is completely
unacceptable, and the fact that it had a few "untruths" doesn't
really matter. Still he tried to make me stay but because I politely
insisted for about 10 minutes he relented and let me go.
keep me to my word to go back he took me to the airline office
himself and waited outside to take me back. The service in the
airline office was fast and efficient, I managed to extend the
return date to May next year. As we finished I noticed that the
man was patiently waiting outside, no doubt planning how to take
options were grim, if I refused to go back to the shop he would
accuse me of not keeping to my word, if I still insisted on not
going then he would raise his voice and cause a scene in the street
and probably bar my way. If however I agreed to go to his shop
and have a drink, he would insist on showing me some artefacts
and tell me that he would give them to me for a very special price
(they ALWAYS say that!). If I refused he would insist that I should
stay as his guest anyway- hence making it culturally unacceptable
to leave and again causing a commotion in the street if I tried
to go. Another alternative would be to go to the shop, buy something
cheap and try to leave, but that would be unlikely to work since
they are never satisfied unless they have taken a lot of money.
Even if I say that I don't have any money he will still insist
that I go anyway and show me lots of things, taking up lots of
what would you do? How do you get out of a situation like this?
These guys are experts at getting around excuses and they cling
on to you like limpets until they are satisfied.
pondering the options I noticed there was another way. I noticed
that the office that I was in had a back exit into a side street.
"Mind if I use your back exit?" I asked the assistant.
"Er, not at all . . . " she replied
must have been a few puzzled bystanders wondering why a foreigner
was running with a three-year-old to the nearest metro station.
Call me weak but I just hate dealing with confrontation! Anyway,
I never said for definite that I wanted to go back to the shop,
I only said that I HOPED to go back . . .
I returned I found out that my computer was fixed and my friend
was bringing it back from the shop for me. Because the people
in the repair shop know my friend very well there was no charge
for the repair- in this culture relationships are more important
than business, so you see that sometimes the culture can work
in your favour!
I had a bad day followed by a good day, but for me the highlight
was escaping from the tourist tout. One thing is for sure- I'm
going to be extra careful when I go back into that area again
in case I see him.
to one and all,
Alison, Hannah and Esther
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