A Day in the Life of an American in Cairo
Sunrise on the Nile
No matter what time it is, the sun has been shining on us for too long. The bed directly faces the folding set of glass doors to our balcony overlooking the Nile and Cairo’s eastern sky. Our entire room is illuminated once the sun comes up around 5am. I usually spend the next two hours rolling around trying to pretend it isn’t there. If I’ve managed to sleep through the car horns, the sunlight, and Casey jumping around the room, the alarm goes off at 7 and I pull myself out of bed.
I’m in charge of breakfast, but coffee first. The pot for the coffee maker is broken, and they don’t sell many coffee makers in Egypt, so I make a cup at a time with my mug on the hot plate. Pork is also illegal so I substitute my usual ham, egg, and cheese on an English muffin for turkey, egg, and cheese on Syrian bread. And I have to admit, I’m starting to really like it.
The Morning commute from Zamalek to Maadi
If it’s a good day Ashraf has only been waiting for 15 minutes. Ashraf, our beaming and dedicated driver, is a very patient man.
“How are you today Ashraf?” I ask, getting into the front seat of the Jeep. “Hamd Allah.” He says with a smile and a nod. It’s Arabic for “praise be to God,” a response that can somehow be used for everything. I once heard Ashraf talking on the phone and literally half of what he said in the first 30 seconds or so was “Hamd Allah.”
Only in Cairo does a five-mile commute take nearly an hour. It’s stop and go most of the way. We pass a few broken down cars, a few donkey carts, watch motorcycles weave between the cars, almost get in an accident or two, make silly jokes with Ashraf, and we’re there!
Logging in the hours at LinkonLine
I work at LinkonLine, one of the more influential web companies in Egypt and the Middle East. They’ve got the most popular football (soccer) website in Egypt, the most popular news site in Egypt, and a number of other sites and ongoing projects. They have the same work environment as Google. I get to wear jeans and a t-shirt, everyone is on a first name basis, and you come in whenever you want as long as you get your work done. Unlike Google however, smoke breaks are taken in the hallway while managers just smoke at their desk, there’s a “tea boy” that cleans up the kitchen after you and will make you tea or coffee if you ask, and work is as much a social experience as it is functional.
Casey usually meets me on my floor for lunch. Our usual hour lunch breaks consist of: 1) spending the entire time lost walking around Maadi trying to find this restaurant we saw online, 2) settling for the same shawerma place we’ve eaten at too many times, 3) getting taken out to lunch by a generous co-worker, and in turn extending our lunch break by an hour, 4) eating on the roof terrace restaurant in our building (I know, sounds cool, but the food takes forever and kinda sucks), or 5) ordering fast-food delivery like the fat Americans we are.
The rest of my work day is spent between coffee breaks, social breaks, tea breaks, leg-stretch breaks, and cigarette breaks – like a regular Egyptian.
Bearing the traffic on the way home
We make up for taking forever in the morning by waiting outside at least a few minutes before we told Ashraf to pick us up. Unfortunately, no matter how early we make it down to the street traffic is waiting for us with a vengeance. As a rule it takes about 50% longer to get home than it took to get to work. Most of this time is spent learning a few new words of Arabic, waving at the children (they are always excited to see us Americans with cameras), and other ways to protect the time-efficiency portion of my brain from realizing that I could actually get home faster on foot.
Back on Montazah Street in Zamalek
Dinner is usually feast or famine back at the flat. I have yet to be disappointed with the restaurants in Cairo when we go out. The beer selection leaves something to be desired, but the prices and fresh ingredients more than make up for it. Other nights, if we’re up for it we go to the grocery store to get ingredients to cook our own dinner. Half of the time though, laziness at the prospect of an hour or two of cooking and another half hour of cleaning keeps us out of the kitchen. Our solution: a 2 pound bag of corn kernels in the cupboard waiting to be popped.
The rest of the night is spent ignoring the Arabic subtitles on one of three English movie channels we get. The Egyptians, on the other hand, put us to shame. Every other day one of our co-workers invites us out on the town to dance and socialize and join them in whatever it is they do until two in the morning. I don’t know how they do it and still get to work the next day. Maybe it’s because they don’t drink, which isn’t a very fun option for me when it comes to language barriers and dancing. Instead we play online, facebook and e-mail family and friends back home, and half-heartedly watch whatever movie is on before retiring to bed to get some rest before the adventure starts all over again tomorrow!