About My Blog

I Spent six weeks in Egypt before spending a year in Germany. This blog covers the best summer of my life. If you are looking for my posts while I was in Germany ask me, and I'll be happy to share them but I have been asked not to share them publicly. Feel free to visit my brothers blog of his year in Germany or my new blog

Friday, July 16, 2010

Using the system

As a visitor in Egypt I naturally become part of the system and the
machine that is society here. So far I have gone along with the
system, paying bakhshiish when it is due, getting ripped off when I'm
not paying attention, and frustrating taxi drivers with my poor
Arabic. Today was the firt time I feel that I actually used the system
to my advantage and I even feel that I may have abused it.

The day started off normal for a Friday. We don't have class on
Friday, Saturday, or Sunday so I slept in and finally got lunch around
12. Originally we planned on going to the pyramids today. We wanted
to go at 3 to avoid the mid day heat and stay for the light show. We
postponed our departure until 4 but realized at 3 45 that the pyramids
close at 5. I guess sleeping in was our loss but I think we will go
tommorow instead. When our plans were foiled we decided to go back to
the sookh from almost two weeks ago. We went and got there by 5. Last
time we were easily lured into stores and convinced to buy things we
didn't want to. This time we were much better, we ignored "helpful"
people who are really only looking for some bakhshiish in return for
guidance to your destination. To understand this you must understand
Egypt. 1 us dollar is the equivalent of 5.60 Egyptian pounds. The
buying power of 1 pound is approximately the same as the buying power
of 1 dollar. The average Egyptian makes 500 pounds a month. Egyptians
with "good" jobs like teachers, earn 1000 pounds a month. These
people work one or two jobs. To supplement your income you do things
that will earn you bakhshiish. These things include wiping down cars,
helping someone park, helping someone pull out, helping someone across
the street, leading someone to their destination, and any other number
of services. Bakhshiish is usually paid in the range of half a pound
to three pounds, do this a few times a day and you can substantially
increase your income. This is all great until you don't actually
require the service, at the sookh we knew where we were going so we
shooed off every Egyptian who tried to help us. Sometimes you can't
annoy or ignore them enough and they walk with you anyhow with the
hopes of something in return. We managed to get through our shopping
without paying bakhshiish but the next part of the day would end our
string of luck.

We planned to go see a movie after shopping and dinner so we caught a
cab downtown, ate at an "expensive" tourist cafe (4 dollars for half a
chicken), and headed to the theatre. We wanted to see norii iney,
which yalda and Sara had already seen so they decided to go home and
rest instead. Jamie, Kayla, and I didn't know where the theatre was so
we asked women along the way as we got closer (women typically do not
ask for bakhshiish). We got to the cinema and then all he'll broke
loose. Apparently each window sells tickets to another movie. We asked
for the norii iney window and were guided to it, we bought three
tickets together for 60 pounds (4 dollars a ticket) and then got in
line to be let in. Instead of allowing you to go to your seats
whenever, the cinema lines it's guests up outside until half an hour
before show time and then opens the floodgates. We stood in the back
until about 9 20 (the floodgates open at 9 30) when the three of us
were pulled to the front. We got inside the doors and stood there with
a large group of women and the police officers who guard the door. The
police officers rambled on about something, and the people behind us
yelled that we cut the line. Jamie explained later that we were pulled
inside and that the police were asking for 5 pounds bakhshiish from
each of us for protecting us. We pretended not to understand and spent
ten minutes in a much less crowded area and were the first into the
cinema when the doors opened.

We walked to the norii iney theatre and I saw that the number on our
tickets was different from the theatre we entered and I began to think
"uh-uh we are seeing the wrong movie". The ticket clerk pointed out
what I had already realized and took us to the English speaking
manager who changed our tickets. He was extremely kind and we should
have payed bakhshiish but were in such a rush to get to our seats that
we forgot. We took our seats in the back right of the theatre. The
tickets are all the same except for handwritten numbers on the back.
We had three seats together and a great view of the screen. Kayla and
jamie went to get popcorn and I guarded the seats. Your probably
asking yourself when this night went bad and your answer comes now. A
cinema employee comes up to me with a group of five people behind him,
he saw me alone and asks for my ticket. I show him my ticket, A12, he
shows me the other groups tickets, A12, he asks me to get up and sit
somewhere else. I explain that I'm not alone and that Jamie, Kayla,
and I are sitting as a group of three. My broken Arabic apparently
didn't make this clear. Luckily Jamie, who has lived in Cairo before,
came back at that instant and flips out saying we were there first and
that those are our seats. It being our unlucky day, the man who has
the same seats as us is an older gentleman and has more authority over
this employee than we do. Luckily for us, this is Egypt where there is
a system and the system benefits those with money. Luckily for us we
have more money in our pockets than half the people in the theatre
earn in a month. Luckily for us Jamie knows this and says to me
"bakhshiish NOW!" as if it was a spell. I hand the employee twenty
pounds and like a spell he whips around, yells at five guests to get
up and find other seats, like a spell, they listen. They clamber out
of the row which unfortunately has a parapalegic at one end and a boy
with cerebral palsy at the other. The boy struggles to stand as the
five guests exit the row and struggles even more as we enter to take
three of the five open seats. This is when I realize how messed up
this system is and I immediately feel horrible. It doesn't help that
the employee laughs as the boy tries to stand, or that we are the only
people in the theatre with an empty seat beside us, and the clincher:
because the theatre was full, they brought in five chairs for the five
guests that my twenty pounds had displaced. Suddenly we went from
regular viewers to those Americans who bought the best seats in the
house with 4 extra dollars. 16 dollars I to our adventure we had the 5
best seats in the theatre, nobody sitting beside us, guilty
conciences, and a great movie experience. All I can think of now is
"only in Egypt"

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