Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Banking and Bus Tickets

This morning (yes, I woke up before noon) I got up, ready, and dressed, had my regular muesli with coconut yogurt and headed out into the sunshine. Though it's a bit chilly in my apartment at night, that sunshine gave me flashbacks of August and September and I decided to be thankful for the chill. Anyway, I went to the bank to deposit my rent which was really an amusing process. In theory, one takes a number and one waits his or her turn for that number to flash up on a screen at which point one proceeds to the next available teller. In practice, one out of every two people who comes in brush off the man who prints out the numbers, dash up to the counter, and make some excuse as to why what they need to get accomplished is vastly more important than what the other fifteen people waiting to be served need to get done. I had my iPod in and a grinning security guard who was tickled that I was American to keep me occupied and so I made it through the somewhat lengthy wait with a minimum of impatience.
More patience was required for my bus ticket-acquiring excursion to the main downtown campus. I had first to go to the bank there and wait in line (no numbers this time, but still people trying to jump the queue) to pay for a couple of bus tickets. Then, I took my receipt to the top floor of the administrative building which is reachable most conveniently by fire escape. Despite arriving well within the office hours, I found the door to the transport office locked and thus wandered down another corridor until I found someone who took me back to the office as though I were lost. I told her it was locked and so she asked an attendant who'd appeared out of thin air where the man responsible for bus tickets was. Praying, of course. Now, having lived here for some months, I know about how long the prayer should take and, forgive me for speculating, but I think he must've taken a prayer-cum-coffee break. My iPod and this past week's This American Life kept me entertained as I sat in the sunshine again, contemplating the impending insufferable heat. Finally the gentleman arrived, I handed him my receipt and he handed me a couple of bus tickets. Simple enough, I guess. Next, I picked up fourteen postcards after having told as many (or more) people I'd send them one and then continued on to the copy shop to get yet more cumbersome class readings that I plan to tackle soon.
I forgot to mention that the floor cleaning man came a-ringing the other day. I've chronicled his obnoxious doorbell habits before, but since I'm still in my zen-I-was-just-in-Europe-and-loved-it mode, I showered ignoring a good five to ten minutes of sporadic ringing, got dressed, and gingerly made my way to the door where I met the man who wipes down the stairs with dirty rags and demands money for it. We'd been gone (he wanted to know where) and he was thus asking for more money than usual. Fine, fine. I gave it to him, but, you give an inch, he takes a mile. He then asked me something in Arabic and I got two words out of it–maya (water) and hammam (bathroom). Thinking he wanted to fill up his bucket with water from the bathroom, I let him in. I was only partially right. First, he dumped the entire bucket of oily black water (I think it was water) into our toilet, splashing the grit and grime all over everything. Thanks! Then he put the self-same bucket into our bathroom sink (the one I just raved about making sparkle and shine) and fill it up with the faucet whose water I brush my teeth with. Thanks, buddy. Ma3lesh.
I find myself feeling more confident in my (still quite limited Arabic). I regularly tell people "ma3salaama" (goodbye) instead of waving awkwardly and sometimes make the effort to say "assalamo alaykum", the formal greeting meaning "peace be upon you", when I enter a shop, but I don't feel like very many Egyptians actually say it very often. Speaking of Arabic, I'll know next month whether I've been accepted to the State Department's critical languages program for Arabic. Keep your fingers crossed!

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