Friday, September 12, 2008

A New Tenant, the Terrible Landlord, and Thai Food

Today, Ross and I became acquainted with the young American woman who's renting our former apartment from Ahmed. She's just out of law school and is volunteering with AMERA an organization with many connections to my program at AUC. In fact, she's auditing my favorite class. Apparently, Ahmed (aka the landlord) picked her up from the airport and even bought her some food. This nice side is something I haven't seen and am likely to see even less since, after realizing that Ross and I had switched out the mattresses in the apartment we moved into with the ones we'd been sleeping on he began complaining to Ross, listing a list of grievances he apparently has against me–the mattresses, he doesn't like the tone of my emails or something, etc.
I found all this out after having spent a lovely evening with some classmate from my Intro to Forced Migration and Refugee Studies course.
It was thus that one of my better "hey, I don't mind this whole Egypt thing" days melted into frustration and worry. I was livid that the landlord, who's "lower" level of dishonesty may make him a relatively good landlord here, but would get him into a lot of trouble in the states, should be angry with me when he was deceitful about pricing, the amenities of the apartment, and so forth. While he had been fairly proactive in attending to things that need to be fixed or addressed, he has now left us with a kitchen whose cabinets are rusty and need liners at the very least if not replacing, a bathroom with a vanity so small as to be unusable and a wee little bathtub to compliment it which is serviced by a showerhead that sprays out instead of down which wouldn't be so problematic if he'd ever invested in a shower curtain. The place was filthy when we moved in–the floors and furniture covered in dust and grime, garbage from the previous tenants under the beds, etc. After his bluster about upping the rate from 3600LE to 3950LE being fashioned after an apparent UK policy in which an extra ten percent is tacked on per tenant, it's interesting that he would think it ok not to follow UK norms in any other arena of the lessor-lessee relationship. After I asked Ahmed to lower the price because of the absence of a half-bath before we'd had a chance to look at the apartment, our rate that we're locked into in the current lease became 3850 LE. To add insult to injury, he's now renting our old place out for 3800 LE. This place had a better bathroom and a half-bath to boot. Thank God we at least made off with the mattresses–the others are disgusting, worn, and had literally not been replaced since probably the 1970s. If I were staying in a hostel and paying next to nothing, that's one thing, but I know very well he's overcharging us already. Anyway, I wrote him an email expressing my disappointment at our "miscommunication" (referring to the tones he apparently picked up from my emails) and haven't heard back since. It's such an unnerving feeling to have conflict with someone so fundamentally involved in your sense of security and personal space! Even worse is that the building is owned by his family. His brother's company has an office on the second floor, his uncle, apparently formerly involved in Egyptian intelligence, lives above us; his cousin also lives somewhere in the building. Heaven knows what on earth he's told them about me. Exacerbating all this is the fact that I'm the kind of person who blames myself internally, even if I maintain an exterior of resolve. When others are mad or upset with me, even illegitimately, it really throws me off and makes me anxious. Well, enough about all that. I just had to get it off my chest. I'm sure at least some portion of it is cultural, especially when it comes to the expectations on both sides of what's appropriate. It's for that reason that I included the saga in the blog and not in my private journal.

In other, happier news, Ross and I are meeting with a former Rotary ambassadorial scholar soon. Hany, who I may have mentioned as the founder of Better World (the link's in the sidebar), is an Egyptian who spent a year in Montréal, Québec. Speaking of Better World, I begin teaching English class next week and have also signed up with STAR to teach classes to refugees downtown. On the 19th, I plan to attend a fundraiser my host Rotary club is having to offset the costs of vision-saving surgeries for children whose parents can't afford them.

Tonight, raising my spirits immensely was dinner at the Semiramis Intercontinental. For only about the equivalent of ten dollars, tax and tip included, I had a delicious meal at Bird Cage, the hotel's upscale Thai restaurant. Ross and I got to know Catherine, the new tenant across the hall, a bit. We talked about our backgrounds, Egypt, American politics, and religion among other things. I'd say the net outcome of the day was a positive one. Prior to dinner, I spent a while reading more of my course packet for International Refugee Law. Tomorrow will be more reading and perhaps grocery-shopping and laundry.

News in Egypt:
[Update: Annnnd now the water has been mysteriously shut off entirely and the landlord is unreachable by phone and doesn't have voicemail. Guess I won't be showering tonight.]

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