Involuntarily catapulted into Timmy Mowafi's 'How (Not To)' world, Monica Gerges finds herself on the phone in the middle of the street, yelling at the top of her lungs about a refrigerator. You really can't make this shit up.
When someone tells you not to do something, your first instinct is going to be to do it. Curious as I am, I opened the fridge in what would become my new apartment – despite the landlord telling me not to – and law kont labsa naddara kanet shabbaret. The former tenants had left dairy in the fridge, which had exploded and attracted bugs, which had subsequently died inside the fridge. I'm supposed to eat out of that thing? Yum. People always told me that I only love Egypt because I don’t live there – I just go there on vacation. That was the broken record I heard for over a decade, followed swiftly by the fact that it's because I don't have to deal with everyday life and the difficult people of Egypt. "Okay, here I am - bring it!" I thought when I moved here from Canada, defying the masses. Then I had to rent an apartment and open that fridge.
Not knowing where to begin with apartment hunting, someone mentioned that there's an apartment in a building in Zamalek that's been closed for several months, but the landlord won't pick up calls and is nowhere to be found. Challenge accepted. I took the man's number and gave him a call. From the other side came the voice of an older man who immediately complained of being "3ayyan" - a remark that would later punctuate our every interaction - and told me that his son had just gone back to Canada. Canada? Jackpot. I subtly mentioned having just moved here from Canada and being in search of an apartment, to which he responded by talking about Justin Trudeau - as most people do - and telling me that he had voted for his father back when he lived in Canada. Wonderful. We set up a time for me to see the apartment. A few days later, a man who looks like the spitting 70-something-year-old image of Saeed Tarabiq showed up at the entrance of the building and led me inside a first-floor apartment inhabited by dirt, dust, and what was likely the same furniture this very man sat on growing up.
Sitting down on what was, indeed, his grandmother's old chair, the landlord asked me how old I am, commenting that I seemed about his daughter's age and pulling the enti zay benti card. He then proceeded to tell me not to open the fridge because the former tenants had left some food in there that had gone bad, ensuring me that he'd get it all cleaned up. I complied, but told him that the fridge needs to be changed if it doesn't meet my (read: Monica Geller's) level of cleanliness. He wrote down a list of all the things that needed to be done in the apartment - including the fridge, drapes, and two new mattresses.
Fast forward a few days and I'm back in the apartment with my landlord's wife. This is the part where I opened the fridge; you’d need 3D glasses just to get the full experience of how many life cycles had begun and ended right around where I was supposed to store my eggs. I warned the landlord's wife not to open the fridge, and later phoned him and insisted that I needed a new fridge because there's no way that thing could be cleaned to my liking. Of course he’d already sent it to someone to clean it, who had guaranteed him it was doable.
The 'clean' fridge. Look at all the cute little dead creatures. Larvae and eggs, anyone?
A few days later, a maid is in the apartment trying to discover whether or not anything actually exists beneath all the dust and dirt. Lo' and behold - there's an apartment under there! Except there's also one other problem: the 'newly cleaned' fridge smells like death, and it doesn't actually work. Cue the following phone call in which I insist on a new fridge and the landlord refuses, because why would he spend money to buy a new fridge when he just spent money getting it fixed? "You keep demanding things and I keep spending money and I haven't seen a penny from you yet!" he objected. Na3am? Why do I - the 25-year-old only-recently-employed person who's new to the country - have to fund you in order to prepare the apartment to meet the standard we'd agreed upon? No. He would have to figure it out. Then I made the mistake of asking whether the apartment would be ready to move in by that weekend. "Ah, inshallah."
Inshallah (God willing) basically translated to several days passing - including that weekend when I should've moved in - as the landlord continued to try wiggling his way out of getting me things we'd already agreed upon. "You want new mattresses and a new fridge or else you're not moving in? This is Egypt, ya mama, not Canada," he yelled over the phone. "Egypt, Canada, siteen alf dahya - it's my right to demand proper living conditions prior to paying you a penny," I retorted, drawing attention as I walked down the street. "I'm not moving in with a tallaga m3affena mabteshtaghalsh, and mattresses that look like they’re tal3een min bo2 kalb." This conversation ensued for the duration of my walk from Roxy to Korba, and then for another 15 minutes where I found myself standing fe nos el share3 in front of Shabrawy, yelling at the top of my lungs about my right to a functional fridge without having to dispense my own money to buy it. "Let me see if I understand what you're telling me here," he said, slowly. "It seems like you insist on a brand new fridge. Is this correct?" Asho2 hedoomi? Is that not what I'd been saying for the past several phone calls? Serenity now. After finally establishing that I do, in fact, insist on a new fridge, I asked whether everything would be done by the newly agreed upon moving date as it was fast approaching. "Inshallah." I can't live on inshallah. I can't pack my belongings on inshallah. I can't move in on inshallah!
After three consecutive days of fighting over the phone, he calls me to tell me that he's brought in one of the two new mattresses; it's his daughter's mattress from his house. Cue a fight in which he's offended that his daughter's mattress doesn't suffice when I had clearly asked for a new one, and that he's doing me a favour by giving me a mattress out of his own home. Now his daughter will have nowhere to sleep when she comes home! Ya kebd 2ommaha. Since this is the same man who'd be willing to let his daughter eat out of a rot-infested fridge, I was pretty skeptical. Thankfully the mattress was fine - I wasn't about to keep having pissing matches over the phone every other day - but there was still no fridge and, at this point, the first of the month had come and gone.
A little grace, a lot of patience, and some bickering later, I managed to get a brand new fridge delivered to the apartment. Now that the fridge and the first mattress had finally been dealt with, I took the key and paid my rent only to sit down on my first day in my new apartment with sandwichein ta3meya, watching Hala Habibty while two workers chipped and painted and installed drapes above my head. You win some; you lose plenty. Thankfully, Fouad El Mohandes and Sanaa Younes make everything a little better.
Sure, getting some things done in this country can be a pain in the ass. Fortunately, I'm a product of York University - ironically under the presidency of Egyptian Mamdouh Shoukry - where you had to fight tooth and nail just to get anything done, even to enroll in mandatory courses. Life isn't a piece of cake regardless of where you end up, and I'd much rather be in Egypt than at York (no matter how much I not-so-secretly miss it). I grew up loving Egypt and its culture, despite the fact that I left it when I was six years old and having only been taught a quarter of the Arabic alphabet in school - thanks, RCG. It wasn't until my first visit back from Canada when I was 11 that I fell in love with the people and the culture, the movies and the music, the streets and the sounds. About a year later, we installed a satellite dish and I would find myself awake at 4 AM watching Adham W Zeinat W Talat Banat, or discovering a new (likely rather old) movie. Thus began a love affair I’ve now flown across the globe to pursue, no matter how many rotten fridges may try to come between us.