Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cairo by the Pound


I wish that I'd never learned that a falafel sandwich costs US 18 cents. One Egyptian Pound (5.69 to the USD). Since then, I've been thinking of everything in terms of a falafel sandwich. I had a super fabulous dinner two nights ago with my expensive friends on a gorgeous boat on the Nile. My portion of the bill was 150 Egyptian Pounds ($26). Not so bad for a super fancy restaurant on a boat, on the Nile, which would rival any fancy New York City restaurant, but I kept thinking... "Wow, that's 150 falafel sandwiches!" I have to stop splurging!" My new set of hair clippers was 37 falafel sandwiches and 1/2 a kilo of sliced turkey from Alpha, 40 falafel sandwiches.


A cost of a pack of local cigarettes costs US 79 cents; a pack of Marlboro Lights is $1.80. In my effort to go “Balladi,” (local) I tried smoking the local cigarettes (Cleopatra), but they gave me a headache, tasted like ass (not in a good way) and because they come in a soft pack, I kept losing them. The warning label says something like, "Smoking interferes with marital conjugal relations" see photo above. It's hilarious, they can print a picture of a flaccid cigarette, but they can't say "erection." It's a good thing that I'm not married!

Doormen (boab... “bow-abb”)

My landlord suggested that I tip them 50 pounds a month ($9). They of course requested twice that. I didn’t give in. Having a boab in Egypt is like having your 8 year old brother stand out in front of your room (24hrs a day),  judge your guests, comment on your life choices, kiss your ass like it’s never been kissed before, and ask for a quarter because he polished your doorknob by virtue of him turning it to let the plumber in. I thought that my boabs were particularly intrusive, but found out later that it is the norm. At 3 a.m., my boab rolls a bed out into the lobby and sleeps there. There’s no way to come home without waking him up, and when you do the drama starts. “Oh, I was sleeping, but that’s okay, ya Pasha!

Cleaning Person:

My doorman (boab) recommended a woman who cleans apartments in this building for $10.54 a session. "A deal!" you might say. Not really. I was warned that cleaning ladies don't pay attention to detail to the degree that I'm used to in the States, but come on. My boab tells me that he made an appointment for her to come at 11am. He suggests that even though she is very trustworthy, I remain in the apartment the entire time, something I did not want to do. "It's customary," he says. So she, of course, arrives at 2pm with her (cute) 9 month old baby, Yousef. I let her in and she sits on my sofa, lifts up her shirt, takes off her hijab, and begins breastfeeding Yousef... for about 20 minutes. I'll support breastfeeding wherever I can, but I have shit to do, she's 3 hours late and I haven't had my mango juice yet (70 cents, btw). It takes her 15 minutes to put Yousef to sleep on my bed. She then goes into the bathroom and changes into a robe. She "cleaned" for about half an hour before Yousef wakes up, at which point she picks him up, places him under her arm and begins cleaning again. "I'll take him," I said... big mistake. Was stuck with Yousef for two hours (he likes pee-a-boo or "beee" in Arabic). She wipes my mirrors and windows with a dirty rag and neglects to clean my stove, my refrigerator and my bathroom. I did not complain. It was more important that she leave than finish. So, just when I think she’s was done, she proceeds to take Yousef into my bathroom, bathe him in my sink, dress him on my rag wiped coffee table, and eat her lunch for another 45mins.

Ant Spray:

$1.60. It’s not just any "Raid" ant spray. It’s Raid that smells like it used to in the 1970’s…Oh Yeah! After ants made their way through my unopened plastic bag of sugar and started a little farm in it, (with tunnels and all), I was more than happy to make the purchase and to give up the six months off my life that comes it.  There are certain things that I'm not so "hippie" about. Deodorant, antibiotics and apparently, ant spray are the exceptions. Not to worry about the wasted ant-filled bag of sugar… the cleaning lady took it home.


Cost of a ten minute cab ride to my expensive friend’s house in Zamalek, so that I can spend hundreds more on going out… 95 cents. It would cost about $3 to take an Egyptian cab from Brooklyn to Midtown. A ride on the Metro (subway) is 18 cents. It’s rather clean, crowded, there’s no P.A. system or A.C.

Egyptian National Museum:

Entrance fee: 60 Egyptian Pounds ($10)… less for nationals. I was saddened by my visit. After going through numerous checkpoints and metal detectors, I found myself in an extremely dusty, unorganized, warehouse style museum, with yellowed, hand typed, index cards that dated back to the 1970’s describing each treasure. The glass cases had fingerprints and grey streaks, tons of dust on the statues and sarcophagi. It was laid out by period and had countless treasures that I felt weren’t respected. One has to come to Egypt with an open mind. There is no good and bad here. There is just acceptable and unacceptable. A dry roast beef sandwich with slightly green edges is acceptable, no hot water in the kitchen… acceptable, elevators that only go up… acceptable. The condition of the museum was not. It is their lifeblood and invaluable part of the human story.


Apparently the cost of bribing a police officer not to arrest you for kicking another guy in the nuts at CafĂ© Hurriya is 150 Egyptian Pounds. ($27). This happened to a friend’s roommate, who, after not having the money on him, was escorted to his house, on the other side of the Nile, so that he could get the money and give it to the cop there. Now… you may look at this as a bad thing. I actually take comfort in the fact that, if I were to get into trouble, I can buy my way out. We don’t have these conveniences in the States. There are lawyers and judges, court dates and adjournments involved. It costs much more than $27 to kick a guy in the nuts there!


  1. Loving the blog, SamIAm. Thank for the heads up email, too. I thought I "followed" last week. I am loving your words. i feel like I'm there. ...infiltrating the culture. Improving that Arabic. Meeting the locals head on and getting skooled by the local cleaning lady! haha! You go!

  2. Now I'm going to start measuring everything I buy in falafels.

  3. I hope the cleaning lady never makes it back...

  4. This makes me miss you less. (-:

    Thanks for blogging! You're pretty great!

  5. this makes me miss you more (lol)

  6. I had a falafel for lunch today in your honor! $6.50.


  7. True story: I was in a meeting this morning with a political candidate. We were trying to decide how to allocate resources and which activities were worth our candidate's time. "Listen," I said. "I have this friend Sam who is living in Cairo. He measures the value of everything against falafel sandwiches. A cab ride is 50 sandwiches. A hotel room is 150 sandwiches. That's his metric, and that's what we need to do. So, what's our metric?"