It's no wonder that Egyptians might be seeking asylum in another country.
But that's NOT what I'm on about! I'm talking about Luxor actually BEING an asylum: a lunatic asylum!
Bob62 (of Gloucester and TripAdvisor fame) was asking me just the other day if all our water problems were finally sorted out. Like a fool, I said that I thought they were, me and my big mouth! Do you really want the saga of the water meter? Probably not, unless you're that bored that you are contemplating suicide! Never mind, I need to get it off my chest, so here we go!
Nevertheless, when we bought our property from him over six years ago, the water and electricity meters weren't part of the deal. Being as green as grass, I just imagined that they were part and parcel of buying the flats. NO not in Egypt! Since then, he has been trying to get me to cough up extra money for these two items, but eventually, his kindly and generous nature got the better of him and he finally agreed to transfer them to us at no cost. Alhamdulillah! This was a good few weeks ago, before Ramadan. Mr Aboudi had to go personally to the Luxor Water and Waste Water Company to do his side of things before we went to do our bit. He kept putting off because it was too hot, and then because it was Ramadan, and latterly because we were having a bit of an Indian Summer, which I reported on a while ago.
Never mind, Uncle Mohamed came ringing at our doorbell last week with the completed paperwork from the Aboudi end of the business. All that remained to do was for Freda and I to go along to the Company (Opposite the Sonesta St George Hotel) and get signed up, plus, of course, part with some more money! We would need an interpreter, as well, so decided to ask our neighbour, Adam Haggag, who has the coffeeshop opposite.
Adam has proved to be a good friend, and indispensable on many occasions. His wife sometimes cooks a real Egyptian meal for us, he helps us with tradesmen, and he also sometimes arranges a mini-bus for our guests’ outings to the various sites, at a price which is less expensive than the tour operators which we have previously recommended. He’s also our eyes and ears for what’s afoot in the neighbourhood, he notices all the strangers round about, and points out those whom he thinks might be from the dreaded West Bank, and therefore may be trouble!
We arranged to meet him at 9 o’clock this morning, when we would get the ‘bus together and sort out this last bit of officialdom. He wasn’t there! I shouted up to his bedroom window; no response. I telephoned his mobile and the window above burst open. “Have a seat with Michael, I’ll be down in a minute” (Michael is the Christian boy who has the watch shop on the corner.) Adam appeared at 9.30.
After several buses had gone past full of bodies or going in the wrong direction, we eventually got the Awamaya bus which dropped us off exactly opposite the Luxor Company for Water and Waste Water. Of course, we went in the wrong entrance, and had to be ushered along the street a little, to the entrance to the public office. We didn't have to wait too long before we were seen to by a very pleasant and seemingly efficient chap in blue jeans and an impressive set of whiskers. (Freda saw me eyeing up the beard, and told me in no uncertain terms that no, I couldn't’t have one!) His little office was at one end of a 35 ft long waiting room, with a full length counter with glass partition. When he had done his ‘bit’, he directed us right to the farthest end of the stone counter, as he shouted for his colleague to attend to us. He then appeared behind said counter, telling the new man what to do. We got a few more bits of paper and were then sent along to the other end of the counter, where our first chap again told a young man what needed to be done. Here, we were handed a bill! Several water payments had not been made and these had to be out of the way before we could proceed further. We were directed to the cashier’s window, where the friendly cashier took our money. “Is that it, Adam?” I innocently asked.
You know the answer! “No Mr Edward, we have to go to another office near the Kebash Road, and we will need to pay more money, only about 200 pounds, mumkin.” (possibly) I didn't have 200le, so we stopped off at home and while Freda went upstairs to find some more cash, Adam and I had some tea and a smoke in the street. We decided that Freda needn't trail around with us, as she had signed her life away at the first office, and wouldn't be required to again. Adam and I walked.
We found the office a couple of blocks behind the two churches on Sharia Karnak. It was a dismal place, in a small yard with a couple of trees and stacks of old cast iron pipes and man-hole covers lying around, as were several ‘workers’ with bare feet, either eating or smoking. We were pointed to a door, and went in. Three filthy desks, piled high with folders, used tea glasses, water meters and other detritus. Every piece of paper had to be weighed down, as the ceiling fan was rather strong. The gaffer’s desk had some plastic flowers stuck in the end of a small armature from an electric motor, a nice touch, I thought! I dearly wanted to take a picture of the inside of this place, ‘A picture paints a thousand words’ springs to mind, but the camera batteries are flat, and I wasn’t sure how much we would be left with after today’s expenditure, so couldn't buy any. Suffice it to say that it was like a cross between a pig sty and a scrap yard!
After some concerned looks in my direction, the three men, who seemed to be the office’s permanent fixtures, decided that they should dispatch someone to read the water meter at home. I waited, while Adam took the man on the bus, there and back, only about 40 minutes or so. In the meantime, another customer arrived and the gaffer and he had quite a shouting match! The man turned to me with a torrent of Arabic, in a pleading manner. Apparently, he had mistaken me for a plain clothes policeman! It all ended well though, as he made his way home with a new water meter under his arm.
When Adam and his new meter-reading friend returned, there was obviously some problem, which Adam seemed reluctant to translate. “Mr Edward, today you say it is OK for you to have the water meter for the building in your name, but what if you change your mind tomorrow? What about Dr Al Malach?” (Our first floor, surgeon, neighbour.) This was one of the desk jockeys, speaking through a falafel sandwich! But, after managing to convince them that I was actually sane, we were dispatched off to the first office again, to pay some more money. (Our two bus journeys back towards Awamaya made it 12, so far, today.)
We felt quite at home, with the bearded man shouting the length of the building again while dealing with an elderly Egyptian couple. The wife kept presenting her hands with the palms up-over, like Jewish women do in films, to express frustration. The bearded one was trying to explain something by speaking s-l-o-w-l-y, which I think was getting the woman’s back up a bit! (Colloquialism: Getting one’s ‘back up’; getting annoyed.)There were three others coming and going, in a generally dis-satisfied manner as well.
The beard got around to us after a short while, and took our paperwork hither and thither before giving it back to me and pointing out that I now had to pay a further 218.60le to the cashier. The cashier’s window was firmly closed! It transpired that all these other people were also waiting to pay the cashier, who just happened to be at the bank. They telephoned him. “He’ll return after fifteen minutes.”
The cashier’s window opened after about another 45 minutes of sitting in an overly hot waiting room, on uncomfortable chairs and without even a sip of tea! Adam jumped up to be first at the window, naturally, I suppose, as he’s Egyptian. But I manage to pull him back out of the way (to much protesting) to let the others (who had been waiting longer) get seen to first. The elderly gentleman was waving a fifty pound note about, looking for change. Adam gave me a look, as I went into my wallet, “You might need it yourself!” I relented. When it came to our turn, I handed over five fifty pound notes, expecting 31 pounds change with a few coins. The cashier just handed one of the notes back. “Faqua” (Change) he exclaimed. “Lay” (Why) I retorted. “Mish faqua” came his reply.
This is where I lost it, I’m afraid to say. “We've all been waiting here for over an hour while you've been to the BANK, why haven’t you any change?” “Didn't you think that you might have customers this afternoon?” I was shouting by now, and all the office doors opened and the room was filling up with all sizes and types of Egyptians trying to calm the situation and apologising for the stupidity of their working practices and for keeping me waiting etc etc. The poor old couple, who hadn’t had a chance to escape before the volcano erupted, obviously didn't matter, as they wouldn't have dreamt of complaining.
Adam, knowing that I was wasting my breath, had snatched the fifty and gone outside to search among the (dead) shops for change. He was back in a few minutes, by which time the bearded one was almost prostrate on the floor in his bid to placate me. Anyway, that part of the job got done and we ended up with another set of receipts and other papers which we had to present at the second office in order to complete the transaction. Adam, bless him, had the foresight to make sure that the other office would still be open before we trailed down there again.”Oh yes, they are open until 10 o’clock.”
Sixteen bus journeys and five hours after we started, we arrived at the office behind the churches on Sharia Karnak at 2 o’clock , to find that they were now closed until 3!
We’ll go back tomorrow.
Now then, you may think I'm being rather too harsh in saying that I'm living in a lunatic asylum! But look at this country: A government which seems to believe that it's a GOOD THING to have a system whereby to get anything official accomplished, a member of the public should spend a whole day filling in forms and traipsing from one place to another and then stand in queues at each place while the staff please themselves about what they do and when they do it (if anything) and then wonder why no-one bothers to get building permission or apply for licences for this that or the other? Then look at the members of the public who seem perfectly willing to be herded about like cattle, without a murmur of complaint! Egypt will never get anywhere near having a decently fed and housed population as long as this shambles is allowed to continue in the civil service!
It's all lunacy!