Sunday, May 22, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Tenant Advisory

Have you ever been driving down the road, look out your window and say, “Hey, that looks my washing machine on the back of that motorbike”? Then you realize, “Hey, that is my washing machine on the back of that motorbike.” No? This hasn’t happened to you? Well, you just haven’t been living.

This picture is of my 25-year old washing machine and yes, on the back of a motorbike as it was taken to get fixed. While you can find many nice apartments – for a comparative New York rent price – and full of modern-day amenities, my apartment came equipped with what I feel is 1949 (just post-WWII) furnishings. And here’s a newsflash, good luck getting your Egyptian landlord to replace or repair anything.

My landlord even made a guest appearance to my apartment (thank God I’d just cleaned and hid the alcohol – being a single female, she might assume that I was a debaucherous, trouble-making tenant) and commented, “Wow, all of the things in here are really old.” Hey – good eye there Sherlock! Don’t get me wrong, my apartment is nice, but when my landlord wanted to raise the rent – I had to ask why since she refuses to pay for the constant repairs that need to be made and hasn’t done any renovations in the apartment in approximately 10 years!

Upon my departure, I will be taking my bathroom sink. Eat that.

There are no landlord/tenant laws in place to protect either the landlord or the tenant. For instance, many landlords actually use what would be considered gender/race discrimination in the US as a means of denying leases to potential renters. And not only that, you can have a bowab (doorman) that makes your life a living hell.

First of all, most Egyptians love being in everyone’s business. If you are a single female, be wary of having men in your apartment while you are alone or late at night. Also as a point of interest, should you require a repair man of some sort in your apartment, you also need to make sure you have another man present, ie a friend or colleague.

If your bowab and/or neighbors are looking for a reason to get rid of you, they will simply call the morale police to say that you are a prostitute. I know a German female that lived in a place on Road 9 – expat central – in Maadi. Her building’s tenants were mostly very conservative Muslims (women wearing the niqab) and constantly sent police to her apartment, harassed her landlord to remove her immediately, and would repeatedly send people to knock on her door throughout the night. She had other female friends over and the neighbors sent the police to investigate as they made claims it was a harem.

In addition, any single man has to be aware of the same situation. Foreign men have to be careful about being caught with an Egyptian female. And likewise, Egyptian men who are single can incur problems for having female guests and it can even spill over into family problems. The bowab, neighbor or landlord may call the Egyptian tenant’s family to disclose the activities that have been going on within the apartment. In a similar story, I knew of an expat man in his late-40s who’s landlord saw him with an Egyptian female. The landlord knew the woman and her family and told the man, “What you do is your own business, but you may not have her over any more.” And thus that short-term relationship was over.

I am lucky. I’ve only met my landlord once (that surprise visit in over three years was the first and only time I’ve ever seen her). My bowab is completely terrified of me. My next door neighbor is from Texas and a good friend of mine and I’m friends with others in the building. On the flip side, I’ve heard complete nightmare stories from other friends about landlords and bowabs being all in their business, neighbors causing unrealistic and horrible problems, etc. I even heard a friend recant a story of walking into his apartment from vacation to find his bowab just chilling on his couch.

However, if you’re looking to move to Egypt, don’t be surprised at the difficulty or just difference in landlord/tenant transactions compared to other places like the US. And don’t be surprised at the racism. Although it’s a horrible thing, Egyptians are even racists against other Egyptians. Some landlords refuse to rent to other Egyptians and even say bluntly “foreigners only.” And there are no legal ramifications for this discrepancy.

Once again, you can change leadership within a country, but until its people change, everything will remain the same.

Place of the Week

Cuba Cabana
28 Road 7

My friends and I were looking for something different yet not too far from home and I’ve always heard rave reviews about Cuba Cabana – so we decided to try it. You will not be disappointed as this restaurant/lounge has such a nice ambiance with the entrance and dining area being open air. That being said, unlike many other places, we did not struggle with the usual aspect of open air seating: flies. There is also a little water fall directly in front of the bar (non-alcoholic FYI) and tvs all around.

The food is a combination of Latin cuisine with also a Lebanese menu (dubbed Tanoureen). Although I didn’t see it for myself, there is a separate area called the Q Club, separated by glass partitions, that offers all-you-can-play pool for LE 40. I also heard there was a minimum charge, but my friends and I each ordered dinner, special juice drinks, coffee and shisha, so if there had been a minimum charge – I’m sure we greatly exceeded it (supposedly the minimum is LE 75).

The mixed taquitos
Johnny had the mixed taquitos (chicken and beef) served with a Caesar salad. I loved his the best. My friend Rachel also confesses that the taquitos is her favorite thing. If that's not an endorsement...

I had some special dish that was supposed to be shredded beef, but as you can see, was more like cubed and similar to an Asian stir fry. I wasn’t as big of a fan. FYI don’t get the rice if you’re like me and hate the Egyptian-style cinnamon method.

Pinar had a little lamb dish from Tanoureen. Sorry, no photos available.

Service was wonderful, company was excellent as always and the atmosphere was really wonderful. I felt like I was somewhere other than Maadi.

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