Ah, Egypt - land of the pyramids and the sun gods, bad traffic and bureaucratic ineptitude, and people who complain about almost everything yet often laugh at their troubles. Nevertheless, getting anything accomplished in this country has proven to be a bit of a challenge for this foreign local. Maybe it's because I don't know my way around yet and I'm just learning, but c'est la vie
. I was warned ahead of time about how much I would struggle with 'the system' in Egypt and how infuriating it would get, with some people getting to the point of tears after dealing with getting things done at government offices. I made the move anyway
. Figuring out how to get things done always makes for good opportunities and strange adventures, but I really didn't expect that getting Internet and a cell phone line would be this difficult.
You can usually tell when you're going to have 'one of those days' where something peculiar or significant happens; except, for me, most days in Egypt have been 'one of those days'. Maybe I'm just too observant. I should've known I'd be in for an adventure when my Uber driver managed to get lost trying to find one of Zamalek's biggest landmarks and ended up driving around in circles. Unfamiliar with Zamalek's many one-way streets, he ended up driving the wrong way down a one-way street to ask someone for direction, where he then found himself face-to-face with two policemen on a motorcycle. They didn't fine him, though; they were content with just making fun of him for driving 3aksi and somehow calling himself a driver. I held back giggles so as not to contribute to the chaos.
I figured that my Uber confusion would be my entertainment for the day – I clearly lead a very interesting life – and assumed that getting set up with Internet at home and a khat
mobile would be just like walking into a Rogers
store in Canada. Negative. Bayoumi, a twenty-something-looking service representative, courteously greeted me as I entered the store – slightly flustered from a long and confusing day – and I told him that I'm looking to set up Internet for the apartment I'm renting
. "Did this apartment have an Internet connection with us before?" he asked. I stared at him blankly as I thought, 'ana 2eish 3arrafni
?' and then proceeded to say it out loud. Apparently if a line had used a different service provider, it would take a lengthy process for them to provide an Internet connection – good start, right? "It's okay, do you know the phone number for the apartment you're in?" he asked. As I fumbled endlessly trying to find my phone and retrieve the number, Bayoumi's coworker walked out from the back room and grabbed his stuff so he can leave – an hour early, apparently. Despite Bayoumi's objections, his coworker seemed to believe enno kollo bel 7ob
, gave Bayoumi a pat on the back, and walked out of the store. That would've been awkward had I not burst out laughing directly in Bayoumi's face, breaking the silence and prompting his laughter, too. After finding the phone number, he asked me whose name the apartment is under – I did nothing but smile, and he immediately understood that I had no idea. After doing a little computer work, Bayoumi told me that he would send the request through for approval, and that I would need to call customer service in 10 business days to follow up. Spoiler: I still don't have Internet at home.
I thought the complicated part was over until I asked if I could switch the phone number I had over from a kart to a khat. I was using the number that my uncle had gotten me for when I come visit, so the account wasn't in my name. For a full five minutes, I stood there trying to guess the name of the account holder as Bayoumi looked at the information on his screen, laughed, and continued to shake his head 'no'. In any case, the account holder would need to be physically present to transfer the account to my name, after which we could go from kart to khat. At this point I'm not even surprised anymore – it's 10 PM and it has definitely been one of those days. Changing my number and getting a new account meant having to give him my beta2a and a valid address, but the address on my beta2a et'haddet min sineen and I have no other ethbaat shakhseya. Not only would he need an address, but a land line kaman. Eh el ghalasa di? Amused at my struggle almost as much as I was, Bayoumi suggested that I use my work address and landline as an alternative. "Does your work have a landline?" he asked. He keeps asking these questions that I have no clear answer to, so I had to go online and check while he sat there waiting and chitchatting with me about my job. After retrieving the information and having to spell out CairoScene for him more than once, we were both baffled as his system insisted that he input all the information in Arabic. By now I'm wondering where the hidden camera is and I want nothing more than to go home with a functional phone number.
After trying to spell CairoScene in Arabic – kaf, alef, yeh, reh, waw… – we were both laughing at how ridiculous all of this is. "Are you from Egypt?" Bayoumi asked, and I stood there telling this complete stranger my story of coming to Cairo. He's surprised that I came back, but told me that it's not a matter of Egypt not having opportunities – it's about people not working toward getting those opportunities. I didn't disagree. As he continued to click away and get me that new number, Bayoumi mentioned having a business degree, which is why he's working as a service representative for now, but that he's working toward learning English and is taking courses because he knows that, once he learns the language, he'll be able to find far more opportunities, so he's trying. I was thoroughly impressed, and made sure to tell him so. Let's not be bleak and get into the fact that even those who know more than one language are struggling to find work; let's focus, instead, on the fact that he's bothering to better himself and create opportunities as opposed to sulking about the lack thereof. I know far too many twenty-somethings – in Egypt and abroad – who continue to grumble about a lack of opportunities when what they're doing is searching for opportunities for which they're unqualified while simultaneously allowing other opportunities pass them by because they're too je ne sais quoi to accept a job working at McDonald's until something better comes along.
Putting the SIM card into my phone, Bayoumi asked if my company was hiring for any positions, even for a tea boy. I chuckled and said unfortunately not, but told him to keep working on his English because it's bound to get him somewhere. In a comically sweet gesture, he joked about keeping the number I had just signed up for to occasionally call and ask if any positions are available. I laughed it off and wished him well, yet couldn't help but walk away thinking that he would need to start by learning that it was pronounced 'flex' not 'felix'. Nonetheless, I appreciate this humble but resilient young man's perspective on life and on the land he calls home. Here's hoping you find opportunity, Bayoumi.
Fast forward to a few days ago as I'm mid-conversation with a new friend on a long car ride home – one of the best ways to have a good conversation – and he mentioned how he used to despise Egypt when he first moved back, then he had a change of perspective. "There's a lot of crap you have to deal with in Egypt, but it's a matter of how you deal with it," he explained. "You could get upset and complain about it, but complaining doesn't actually change anything. Or, you could find ways to deal with things and move on with your life." Opportunity isn't so much about where you are and what's provided to you as it is about your attitude and what you choose to do with your life. You could sit and sulk about Egypt having no jobs, or you can go out, start small, and make a way for yourself like Bayoumi is. Egypt is an incredible country with a lot of shitty things about it, just like everything else in life. Why not embrace the good and learn to deal with the bad? Why not shift to a perspective where we learn to actively create opportunities
rather than passively complain? Think about it.
Main image by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Mahmoud El-Beleehy