Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mugammah Meanders

Mugammah. A rite of initiation for expats. Newbies are fed inflated tales of torturous bureaucracy. As part of the experience, they aren't advised on how the experience can be less dreadful.

My first time was okay, despite what I'd been told. It was more of a schlep than anything else. Hot and crowded. Go to counter, unfriendly woman tells me to make photocopies of passport. Down I go. I return. She wants photocopies of another page too. Down I go again. I return. She sends me to stamp counter. I return. She tells me to come back in 10 days.

10 days later it's busy and I'm squashed in a throng of people. I'm told to return after two hours. Two hours later I'm stuck once again in a sticky mess of humans. I have to wait forever, because all the ladies are on a tea and chat break.
But it's ok, because the woman standing behind me strikes up a conversation, and she's South African! A white middle-aged woman who converted to Islam. So we had a lovely chat.

 On my second visit over 2 years later, I knew the drill, went early to avoid the crowds and had all the necessary photocopies. The lady tells me I need an 8LE stamp. Off I go to stamp counter. Return. Wrong stamp. I need two stamps which amount to 8LE. One 5LE & one 3LE stamp. Off I go to stamp counter again. It's now crowded, and I'm at a disadvantage due to height. Finally I manage to get to the front, but men behind me just reach over. When the stamp-man looks my way, he refuses to change the stamp. Fine. I'll just buy the right stamps. He ignores me, and doesn't serve me. I'm frustrated and angry. Tears roll down my cheeks. A woman standing next to me notices, brings it to his attention. I'm embarrassed and don't want anybody to notice. But his demeanour changes. He apologises, is all smiles, and promptly exchanges the stamp.

Subsequent visits pass without incident. I advise newbies on what to do, & they report uneventful Mugammah experiences. The best time to go is 8:30am. Friends and I once went at 8am (opening time) but had to wait for an hour while the staff settled in, and the women had their morning tea.

But we all still regard it as a schlep. The dreadful women who work there make it so.

Thankfully, I no longer have to experience that. I now have Press Centre privileges. Yay! Last week I went straight to the PC office at the Mugammah, with a letter from the main PC. I sat in an air-conditioned office in comfort, while the paperwork was done. When I was asked for money for the stamps, I stood up, thinking I have to go to the stamp counter. I was looked at strangely. No more of that for me!

Saaleha lived in Egypt for a few months in 2010.
Her delightful Mugammah account

In response to Saal's post, I haven't had to fill in my 'original nationality'. Which is South African tab3aan.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


I left South Africa feeling slightly sad, but mostly unsettled. I didn't feel like leaving. I've been given an opportunity to realise my dream of being a foreign correspondent, and I almost gave it up.

But here I am, & I enjoy being back. But yet, there's a lingering sense of feeling disconnected. I feel rootless. And that's what was urging me to stay in SA. Roots. I have a wonderful group of friends here, but with most of them being expats, it's all so transient. I feel like a water lily floating downstream with other water-lilies.
At home, I'm part of a solid tree, with strong branches. Here we are all saplings.

I do love Cairo though, & value my experiences & the friendships made here.

So, a quick diary version of my time here thus far.

Tuesday morning:  Arrived in Cairo at 6:15 It was hot. Last year this time was much cooler. I had arranged an airport pick-up from the ho(s)tel I booked at. {I wanted to be independent & decided not to ask friends if I could stay with them while looking for an apartment.} Got to the hotel at 8am, was told I could only check in at noon. And immediately felt like crying. I was tired & still feeling I'd made a mistake by returning. But I pulled myself together. Surfed the net looking for apartments to view. Received an email from a friend asking what time I'm arriving, inviting me to dinner. When I responded & mentioned I'm at a hostel, he & his wife immediately offered for me to stay with them. Since the hotel was not what I thought it would be, I gladly accepted. No point being stupidly independent.

Hit the streets, met estate agents, started my apartment search. Spent the afternoon with one of my best friends, catching up. We then joined the others for dinner at an Indian restaurant. Good food, good company made it a wonderful first day back. Collected my bags from hotel, & spent the night chatting to my hosts. (They're a delightful young couple whom my previous flatmate & I met through a mutual friend. They then became friends with our group of friends, & we all love them)

Wednesday: Spent the day looking at apartments. It was 39 degrees. Walking in the heat didn't feel too bad though. In the evening, I attended a Chopin concert at the Pyramids. With jazz and rock interpretations, and modern dance, it was a lively, cultured event. The lit backdrop of the Pyramids inspired wondrous awe.

Thursday: More apartment hunting. I was exhausted by the evening, & considered not attending another concert that night. I'm glad I went. It was awesome-urban rhythm Arabic/Spanish hip-hop.

Friday: We all woke up late, had a relaxed late brunch. M&S invited the crew for dinner. We later went to a nearby cafe for shisha, it was such a lovely chilled night.

Saturday (today) : I woke up very late, then hit the streets again. And saw 2 apartments I liked. Was going to take the second, but was slightly unsure. I prayed salaah, making dua I find a better apartment. A simsar (agent) then called me saying he has an apartment I could see. And so I went. And woohoo it's a lovely apartment nicely located in the area I wanted, with a view of the Pyramids!
I signed the contract, & so tomorrow I'll start settling in.

I'm feeling slightly apprehensive about my new job, but am also very excited.

Please remember me in your duas.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Azhar Park

Jum'ah in Cairo

The streets are sublimely quiet. Qiraat is playing on the mosque's loudspeakers. It's Friday in Cairo and the streets are the quietest they'll ever be. Friday mornings are for sleeping in, recovery after the late Thursday nights spent going out.  Here Thursday nights are like Saturday nights elsewhere. Shortly, the muadhin will call people to prayer. The khutbah will be heard over the loudspeakers too, as well as the Jum'ah salaah.

And then Cairo will awake, and the streets will be filled with the chaotic disorder that makes Cairo the city it is.