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Culture Family Julie

First Days in Cairo: Househunting from Jail

Apartment-hunting in Cairo was tough considering Jayson was beginning a new job and we were housesitting in a place which was a 45-minute drive from Maadi, the neighborhood where we hoped to live.  This meant timing our visits there in between or in spite of naps and bedtime for our two girls.  Jayson didn’t have a lot of time to walk around Maadi and look for places, and once he left for the day, I was kind of stuck at the villa.  So, I did what I could from afar and looked in magazines and made some phone calls and even checked the internet.  Surprisingly, one of the best resources for finding an apartment was the ever popular Craigslist site online.

 I saw a place on Craigslist on a Monday and tried calling about it, but the person never picked up.  We had been using a lot of real estate agents to find places and this was another one advertising a 3-bedroom place within our budget.  The details of the place sounded good, but we couldn’t do much about it if there was no answer.  I sent an email to the Craigslist address and finally on Friday night, got a reply that he had been out of town but would now answer his phone.  Well, Saturday was the first day of Ramadan…so the first day of the fast…and I tried calling him several times that morning as we were looking to decide on places, but still no answer. We had narrowed our choices down to a simple ground floor place (drawbacks were no bathtub and a very uneven floor…making the table and chairs a bit tipsy) and a 2-bedroom place across from the office (a good spot…but a little small and seemed a bit expensive compared to other places; plus, there were a lot of mice droppings from its short time vacant).  So, we weren’t super happy with either of these two options.  Finally in the afternoon, someone answered the phone.  He had slept in due to the fasting and it’s hard adjusting to the first day…especially since he’s a smoker.  Anyway, we agreed to see the place at 5:30 that evening…an hour before the time of breaking the fast. 

 We got the girls up from their nap and got ready to go into town.  Since it takes at least 45 minutes to get there from the villa we had to go early…and on the way, the real estate agent texted me to say the key wasn’t available at this time so we had to cancel the appointment.  It was really the only reason we were going all the way into town, so that was no good.  I called him and he thought that we could meet at 8pm and the key would be there.  Plus maybe he could show us some other spots.  So, we arrived in town around 5pm…what to do with three hours?!  Jayson stopped by the office and found there was an interview with some journalists taking place, and his boss invited him to stay for the interview.  Good and interesting for him.  A little hard for us. 

 It’s hard to keep the girls entertained and somewhat less than filthy, playing outside Jayson’s office building.  You see, the ground and everything outside is always covered by a layer of dust/dirt.  Fortunately Hannah is mostly walking now, but both her and Emma get quite dirty playing outside…and then I get dirty because they sit on my lap or I hold them.  I really can’t get from our house to our next stop in the car with a clean shirt and pants.  Oh well, something to adjust to.  Anyway, back to the time at the office.  So, to avoid the dirt, we played inside Jayson’s office building for a little while, but I didn’t want to make too much noise and disturb the interview. Then we left the office, closing the locked door behind us, only to find that the gate to get out of the building was also locked.  So, we were stuck in the stairwell.  And of course, Hannah crawls up steps, cleaning them as she goes!  We were stuck there for about half an hour, and at one point, Emma said we were in jail…something I hadn’t thought of but seemed fitting to our situation.  We tried to stay occupied by telling stories and singing songs, and we attempted to stay a little less than filthy.  The “little less than filthy” was unsuccessful, but we survived until someone who lived in the building came in and let us out!  We went to the car then for a snack until Jayson was done, then to his boss’ house for a drink.  By the time this was all over, it was about 7pm…still an hour until we meet the real estate agent, and I was quite ready to just go back home!  Enough for one day…but the night was yet young!  We got the girls some yogurt to eat and waited for the agent by our rendezvous spot. He showed up a couple minutes past our appointment time and we continued the adventure.

 We didn’t start out at the Craigslist place.  He took us to another apartment building where we were going to see two places.  But instead, we waited and waited and waited and waited for the doorman to come back with the key.  He had gone to the mosque for Ramadan prayers and was coming “any minute.”  This went on for about half an hour.  The good news is, Emma liked this “Amu” (Arabic word for uncle) for some reason and played with him real well despite the fact that it was going on 9pm by the time we finally said, that’s enough waiting, let’s go to the other place. 

 So, then we were going to see yet another place before the Craigslist place, but this one was on the opposite side of the metro track.  We don’t know why he suggested this, but we parked at one spot, walked up and over the metro (lots and lots of stairs) and then preceded to walk what felt like a mile…remember, 9pm, me carrying Hannah, Jayson carrying Emma, through the dark streets…until we finally got to an apartment where we went to the third floor (no elevator).  Now, what’s frustrating about this is we specifally told the agent we didn’t want a high floor without an elevator…it’s just too hard with the kids.  But, we saw the place anyway.  It was a decent place but didn’t have a bathtub, so that was a problem. (Besides being on the third floor).  Then, while Jayson was looking at the back bedroom with the landlord and agent, the landlord closed the shutters on the window, knocking a beehive open…and bees started to swarm into the bedroom!  Fortunately I didn’t witness this myself, but the owner got stung and Jayson made it out of there without harm.  The landlord felt really bad and assured us he would spray and take care of that problem! 

 So then onto the place we had been waiting to see for five days or five hours…depending on when you started counting!  Fortunately, we didn’t have to walk too far to the next place, it was just up and over the metro again. 

 We got to the building and there was a large family gathering taking place in the downstairs aptartment.  Again, it was the first day of Ramadan and the family was celebrating the fast-breaking meal.  And of course, the key was not there, but would be back in about 20 minutes! Ugh!  It was already 10pm!  Well, we came this far, so we had to wait. 

 The family invited us in…or maybe Hannah just kind of walked in and we had to follow her, and we enjoyed a visit with them…having some dessert and juice and chatting some with the people. It was a large group…uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.  The girls did okay despite the hour, and Emma was a little overwhelmed as people would pick her up when she didn’t want them to…but all in all, it was a nice introduction to the owner of the buildings large family.

 So, finally the key came and we went up to look at the place.  I liked it immediately although it was supposed to be a furnished place and there was only some furniture…so that was tricky, but they promised to furnish it if we took it.  We took a look at it and talked some with the brother of the owner, as the owner himself was out of town…and told them we would think about it.  After about 1/2 an hour of looking around and talking, we headed back out…took a taxi back to our car, dropped the agent off, and headed back to the villa…fortunately there wasn’t much traffic and we made good time…both of the girls sleeping from the time we got in the car.

 As a postscript: This is the apartment we did finally settle on, just a few days after our crazy night.  It was a good reminder that things take longer to do here…something we need to get used to.  We’re thankful that our kids are flexible, and glad to be done the househunting for the time being. We posted earlier about a video tour of our new place, so if you would like to see it again, click here.

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Culture Family Julie

First Days in Cairo: A Dinner Invitation

We moved into our apartment in a nice section of Cairo…Maadi, the town of foreigners, or ex-pats, as we are sometimes called. (To clarify, out of the three million people who live in this town, one million of them are ex-pats…leaving two million Egyptians.)  We moved in on a Sunday evening during Ramadan.  Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims, and the majority of Muslims in Egypt fasted from sunrise to sunset…breaking the fast at the call to prayer.  A couple days after we moved in, we passed the doorman and his wife walking on the street.  This was about one hour before the breaking of the fast. 

“Please come and break the fast with us,” the doorman said to Jayson.

“Thank you, thank you,” was the reply.

“Yes, please come and have dinner with us tonight,” added the doorman’s wife.

I kind of looked at Jayson and immediately thought that we couldn’t do it tonight…although I didn’t have a good reason…I’m just not always ready for spontaneity!  “Well, thank you so much.  We can’t tonight.  Um, um, thank you though, you’re so generous,” I kind of stuttered.

Jayson saved me and added, “Thank you for the invitation, God willing, we can join you tomorrow for the fast-breaking.”

The doorman replied, “Yes, God willing, tomorrow.”  And we went on our way.

So, sure enough, the next night, we joined them in their home next to our apartment building.  They live in what appears to be a half-knocked down building, but if you don’t mind that the floor above you is half-broken down, it’s really quite big and spacious. 

brokendownhouse

They also have enough land to grow some vegetables and keep farm animals!  As the wife told me, it’s a villa!  We sat outside, on a mat on the ground and shared a simple, yet delicious meal. 

outside viewbawaab

The doorman’s wife was with us for 10 minutes or so before she disappeared inside.  We ate somewhat quickly…as is customary during the fast-breaking meal, and washed our hands as the kids got up to play and the doorman’s daughter got up to clear the “table.”  A little while later, I was invited inside to visit with the wife who had gone to lay down in her bed to rest.  You see, she had had brain surgery about two weeks prior to this night.  Apparently she had a tumor removed.  It’s not appropriate in this culture, to ask too much about sicknesses or if it was cancerous, for example, but I don’t know of any follow-up treatment she is getting so, I am guessing it was benign.  But still, a brain tumor!

So, as I was pondering our dinner invitation a few days later, some things struck me when I realized that I would never have invited ourselves over if I were in their shoes.

Consider:

We are foreigners…wealthy Americans who are, in a sense, their employer, since we live in the building where they work.   Their daughter knocks on our door twice a day to run errands for us and collect our garbage.  Yet, they didn’t mind having someone from a “higher class” and a foreign country, to their simple home for a meal.

The first time they invited us was one hour before the meal!  I don’t know about you, but if I am having someone over, I like to have some notice!  I like to have everything prepared and the house clean and the table set.  But this family, and as is common in this culture, is always prepared for guests…expected or not.  They would have had enough food to serve us if we came at that first invitation.  They are always ready to serve anyone who might show up.  Talk about generous.  And this from a poorer family.

The wife, the woman of the house, had major surgery two weeks ago!  This is the kicker for me.  I can’t think of many women I know who would invite people to their house when they are recovering from brain surgery!  Yes, maybe for a sick visit, but, “Please, come have dinner with us.  I won’t be able to sit with you long, I have to rest because of my recent brain surgery, but please, come, be with us.  Sit with my family.  My daughters will take care of you.  You are welcome here!”  Hmmm, inviting a new family in the neighborhood to my house, in that situation, would not have been the first thing on my mind.

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Family Julie Video

A Tour of the Caspers’ Apartment

We thought it would be fun to let everyone have a look at our apartment. We live in Maadi, Cairo, Egypt, and we searched about three weeks until we found the place we finally decided was best. Until then we had seen upwards of about fifteen apartments, most of which were good but not quite right. When we were about to concede to the best of the acceptable, we took one last venture out and about, and found this place. We are very thankful for where we landed, and where we will spend the next year at the least, God willing.

The link to YouTube is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNg3JGFcq-8. Please enjoy.