Monthly Archives: February 2010


The first time I read her name, I pronounced it Ooo-Nah. She pronounced it more like Ooo-aaah-nah (and for some reason my new Zune software update has a “I wanna” tune that just circles in my head all the freaking time at the sound of Oana). I first read her post on Cairo Scholars. She was looking for a flat mate and she had a cat. Couldn’t be better. The asking price for the flat wasn’t too steep either, esp. for Zamalek. Check. I wrote up her phone number and added it to my visit list.

“Yes, you’re calling about the flat?” she asked in her greek sounding accent.
“Yeah, is it still available?”
”Yes. When do you want to come? I’m working and evening after seven is better.” She sounded a bit harried – stressed. I could empathize. Work can be tiring. We agreed to a call and I rang off. This was about a week ago. Immediately things starting getting derailed.

“Hey Morganne,” I called her up to try and reach Jan who’d been absent and not returning any calls for a while.
“Salut! Bon jour!”
”How are you?”
“I’m good! Was that you on Cairo Scholars? I’ve seen some of your mails. You’re looking for an apartment?”
“Ah, you’re on it too? Yeah, I am looking. It’s been a bit tough… I saw a few ads, but people hopped on to those even before I scheduled an appointment!” I laughed.
And suddenly she was telling me about her apartment which she hadn’t listed. Would I be interested? She’d only be able to let it starting March. I accepted and set up a meeting that afternoon. It was going to be the 3rd place I’d visit that Friday. Oana was going to be 4th around 7:30pm.

The first visit was great. I’d found a really good one. The apartments seemed well situated, if in a crowded area, or close to it. The ambience felt great and for me that’s an important consideration. Serene, the current resident, showed me the place and gave me a few tips, recommending that I ask for a few things before moving in. She made me feel very much at home.

Next was my appointment in Mohandiseen. Finding the place wasn’t much of a challenge, since I’d lived in that Dokki/Mohandiseen wedge before. After some confusion, I found the right building. My spider sense was tingling. I walked up to the building and noted immediately that parking in this area was going to be a bitch. Climbing up the stairs, I felt claustrophobic and trapped by the dark and narrow climb. An old lady opened the door and greeted me. She had an open looking face. I smiled and said hello. She pointed to the door to the left. “This is the one we’re looking to rent. It’s been recently redone and you’ll be the first tenant.”

Pink! Pink walls greeted me. The entrance faced the kitchen, which was modest sized. On my right was a 1.5 meter sq. bathroom and it appeared to be the only one the flat. On my left the sitting room. I walked left. It was a spacious room and beyond it I could see a good sized bedroom. There were a few chairs and a table in the hall and a bed in the bedroom with a cupboard to the side. The pink in the room felt oppressive and the only balcony faced a building about 5 meters away. I kept the smile firmly pasted on my face and kept talking.

An older lady walked into the room, she was shorter than the lady who’d let me in. She was introduced as the grandma. A short while later a younger lady dressed in pink and with a rosy face walked in. She had a huge smile on her face. We talked for a bit and realized that we had a few friends in common. Sensing some relaxation in the room, my landlord decided she could be open up a bit.

“Are you married?”
“Our menfolk really won’t like too many visitors on the staircase.”
“Sahabat – hope you understand that we won’t appreciate them.”
My head started hurting and my smile grew fixed. I emphasized that I wasn’t a playboy, but certainly I did have friends. And I do love having visitors over. They seemed to be somewhat ambivalent, the younger lady was excited, but my landlord, her mom? seemed less so, dreading trouble. I’d had enough. I smiled and said, I’d get back to them since I was still looking forward to full day of appointments.

Walking out, I filled my lungs and smiled. Wow, I hadn’t expected that, but it just reminded me why apartment hunting can be such a chore. It’s not just finding an apartment, it’s also about finding a compatible and easy going landlord who has expectations of how you maintain his property and impact his image.

Morganne, after this encounter, was turning into a more appealing sight! I rang her up and we agreed to meet in 30 mins. I hopped into my car and headed towards Zamalek. Up Brazil St., and into Mohamed Mazhar, straight until Safir, then a left right there. Parking was a problem in Marashly, so I took the first right and chanced a parking. I figured if Marashly was where the flat was, I was likely going to be parking here, so a short walk away. I checked out the surroundings. A good friend of mine lived up this street and nearby there were some guards minding a building, a small shop just to my right and down the street, a high wall to my left and trees everywhere. Bird droppings were likely and I’d probably have to arrange something with a bawwab nearby. No leaving valuables in the car. I zipped up my jacket and turned right towards Marashly and gave Morganne a call to say I’d be with her in 5. She was home already. Perfect.

Rounding the corner at Arabica, I crossed the street and found her building. No elevators, but this was a great spot. Accessible, supermarket nearby, a florist, and some restaurants. I knew Zamalek’s rhythm. I climbed up the floors and was somewhat breathless when I arrived. I rang the bell and within moments I faced a smiling Morganne.

I knew this place. I’d been here before. Eva had lived here and I recognized the windows, the sofa, and the kitchen. Morganne had done a fabulous job with the curtains and the room was filled with gentle light and a light breeze blew the curtains in graceful curves. I love that look of gauzy curtains and wind blowing through them. Despite the shabby look the Windsor hotel downtown still has a lot of appeal because of the gauzy curtains.

She offered me a beer and I sat on the sofa comfortably talking my first good look at the place. There was a lot of space here and the place looked clean and tidy. I smiled and told her of my recent encounters. She laughed, knowingly. We walked through the apartment and she showed me the rooms. They were oddly shaped but spacious. I liked it. I could have it starting March. It was worth it, I thought. I’d be sharing the flat with a friend and I had loads of people I knew nearby. The drive to and from work would be half what it is now. IF I was moving away from Heliopolis, this place could be great.

“I think it’s a great place you’ve got here. I love it,” I smiled.
”Yes, I love it too and I’m enjoying having it to myself for a bit.”
”I think of the places I’ve seen I’d prefer here or the one in Mohandiseen. They’ll be letting me know if I can have that one by the 16th, so would it be ok if I get back to you around then?”

She seemed ok with the arrangement. I think the hunting spirit hadn’t left me yet, so I was ready for Oana. Things got busy though. We went to visit a friend and that turned from a thing of an hour to something like 3 or 4 and then I had to rush to an appointment at 8. Oana hadn’t called. I was exhausted. I drove home, exhausted.

Sunday I woke up and after a brief stint at the ICT headed home feeling ill. I called in sick and spent the next 3 days nursing a cold. Oana called twice to see when I could come in. She sounded a bit harried. I figured she was about 35, super-efficient and with no time for bullshit. I told her I was ill, but would love to see her place.  Eventually, I got to.

Oana called me on Thursday and we arranged to meet near Metro Zamalek. I managed to get there by 10:45 and waited. She arrived a few mins after I rang her. I couldn’t have been more wrong about her. She looked about 24 and not harried at all, although she perhaps was. Her speech was purposeful and fast, trying to lay out everything in a clear concise manner, but she had loads to say.

We went up the elevator and she told me about her search for a good apartment and told me of the people I’d meet and the effort they’d put in. I was amazed. The kitchen looked bright – the windows, as he pointed out, were – as windows in Egypt often aren’t – clean! All the amenities were present and well taken care of. She showed me the bathroom and explained her concerns with it, then showed me the room on offer.

It was on the smaller side for rooms in Zamalek, but clean and simple. To the right of the entrance was a massive wall cupboard with mirrored doors and an AC hung over the bed. It felt cozy and smelt of fresh paint. They’d really outdone themselves.

Paolo, she explained, had a cleaning company and they were in the startup phase.

“He’s very particular and does great work, and he’s really good around the house. We’ve cleaned the AC filters, disinfected the cupboards….” and more around the experience of the place. Had the parking been fine and perhaps the room a bit bigger, I’d have had few qualms in taking the place.

She’d taken so much effort to follow-up with me, it almost pained me to decline. I did it clearly and explained my reasons. Perhaps I am being picky, but in my exhausted state that evening, even the short walk to the apartment felt exhausting.

Oh, and it turned out that she was Romanian not Greek.

More Cairo Coincidence

“12 it is,” I said, and hung up on Adel, my trusty real estate agent from ERA. It was 11:05am and I was still in my PJs checking email and rounding up some work. I’ve been flat hunting and in Cairo that spells chaos. After over 3 weeks, of searching, calling and emailing, things were starting to turn my way. This being the latest update.

After some replies here and there, a couple of calls, it was 11:35. Time to get dressed. I dropped the work in my home office and stepped into my bedroom, startling Spotty, my cat, in the process. Spotty warbled and gave me a reproachful look and turned his back on me. I just shook my head and ignored him.

Looking through the pile of clothes, I quickly picked out a pair of dark jeans, a light colored shirt and a sweater. It was cold out and I needed to look a bit chic for the landlord. It goes easier that way.

A scrub, soap, a wash and 2 missed calls later, I was on my way, if a bit late. “I’m right besides the Mobil station on Khalifa el Maamoun,” I lied smoothly to Adel on his 3rd attempt at reaching me. My conscience twinged a bit, but I rationalized it by observing that I was about 300m from where I said I was. It was a passable exaggeration. I smiled to myself and ran the next red light.

Checking out the location afresh, I noted the traffic and thought once more if this would be such a good area. The traffic was passable, but the parking might be a mite tough. I swung right into the slip lane and found myself a parking spot. That wasn’t so hard. There were 2 supermarkets nearby and pharmacies. The fast food restaurants, which I wasn’t planning on using, were about 4 mins walk from where I’d parked. I rang up Adel.

“Hey, I’m parked right next to the Family Market. Where are you?”
”Right besides the Metro supermarket…. I see you,” and he waved. I waved back.

"Looking chic! What’s the occasion?” I remarked at his dressed up look. He smiled, “Et faddal.”

“So, tell me about this place!”
”It’s nice. Well furnished, and on the first floor. We’ve talked to the landlord and he’s got someone who’ll open up the flat for us. It’s right below his office.”
”Hmm… alright. How much does he want for it?”
”About 4,000. But why don’t we have a look?”

Here goes Adel again, pushing my budget. He had another fellow, Emad, with him. Emad seemed friendly, and smiled pleasantly, introducing himself. I shook his hand and followed him up the stairs. “The bell works,” he remarked after a moment while we waited on the landing. “And so does the light,” I added with little humor. He got the message and excused himself to check out where the guy had got to. He returned with a key and opened up the apartment.

Marble floors. Wow, I thought. And the rest of the apartment was quite a delight too. The walls were really well painted and the furniture was quite tasteful. I checked out the bedrooms and the bath. The bath seemed a bit small, but the kitchen was fine. Not too big, but spacious and he had a washing machine. 4,000. Hmm…

It was a great flat. The view from the balcony was good. The location was great, and the furnishings were fine too. I think it was a bit better than what I had expected and for the price, I really didn’t feel like arguing. However, it was beyond my budget. I tried explaining my concerns to Emad. He smiled and gently cut me off, saying, “It’s really up to you. Name your offer and we’ll propose it to the guy.” I couldn’t. I declined and we walked out.

Saying goodbye, I headed towards my car thinking of the various offers in my head.

“Kailash!” the shout roused me from my thoughts. I looked right. It took me a moment to figure out the owner of the smiling face. Peter! I waved at him and he stepped out of his car to say hello.

“What are you doing out here? Strolling?” he asked.
”Nyah… apartment hunting. Gotta move out of my current digs and I had an appointment here.”
”Who with? Was it the apartment near Metro?”
”Yep. How did you guess?”
”Yes,” I said looking even more startled.
”It’s mine!” Peter exclaimed explaining that he’d gotten a call from the guys from ERA and got caught up with errands so couldn’t make it to the meeting.

“Small world! They said someone was checking out the place, and found the price a bit steep. It would’ve been awesome if I’d made it for the appointment and found you there!”
”Yeah, sorry about that. I really thought it was a well-priced place, but just beyond my budget.”
”Really? You think it’s well priced? It’s been sitting empty for the last 3 months.”
I perked up a bit at that.
”You really should think about the pricing then, Peter. I mean, you’ve lost 3 months rent. You could’ve shaved off the price a bit.”
He pulled out his mobile and did the math. “Yeah,” he smiled ruefully. “I guess I’d have been able to give 750LE off.”
”Well, there you go then. I’m sorry it was out of my budget.”

I closed it there and told him that I had a meeting to rush to – which I did. Driving home, I wondered what that’d be like, to rent a flat from Peter. My current flat belongs to another good friend and I’d had a blast. I guess I could look forward to something similar with Peter. But it was beyond my means and it’d be tough finding a flatmate who’d share my appreciation of Heliopolis. I’m still looking until Feb 16th when I figure out whether I’ll get the flat in Mohandiseen.

All our problems come from Man’s inability to sit in one room, quietly.

This quote is attributed to Blaise Pascal, who also had a very interesting notion about why Belief is safe. I had my chance to feel the former in the last 2 days as I’ve been afflicted with a cold and homebound. Being for the large part confident in my immune system’s ability to handle this minor challenge, I’ve had to deal with the mental side of things and today I’m ready to start a war or two. Sabbath, I recall had a similar goal according to A. N. Wilson. By forcing inactivity upon you, it winds you up like a spring so you can sprint through the week forward.

Now, sitting charged upon my laptop with my Outlook at the ready, I’m swiping my mails and calls at the demonic host of projects I’m trying to whittle away at. Fools and Project Managers beware!