Monday, August 16, 2010

Egyptian Bureaucracy: The Hospital Edition

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On Thursday morning, I woke up bright and early to go see the gynecologist for my routine annual check-up. I wanted to go to th private, "international" hospital in Maadi instead of a public hospital. I'd ventured into one of the public facilities once to get some blood work done only to have the receptionist call out the name of all the tests I needed over the loud speaker for everyone to hear, call a 2 other people over to read the doctor's note, and call the doctor on the phone and loudly discuss the tests I needed with him to my chagrin...

Needless to say, when I walked into the glass doors (past 4 security gaurds that line the doorway for some odd reason) of Al Salam International Hospital last Wednesday and saw that it was as modern and uninvitingly stark and cold as any hospital in the U.S., I felt confident that this would be a simple and carefree task. My appointment was set for 10 am. At 10:05 am I walked over to the receptionist to check in. He looked up at me and told me dismissively that the doctor wasn't in today and to return to the front desk and schedule another appointment...I asked if any other doctors were available only to be informed that none had shown up to work yet. I guess no one has pressing medical emergencies at the hospital that would require a doctor show up to work on time or at all for that matter.

I rescheduled my appointment for Saturday at 10 a.m. and this time my roommate also scheduled an appointment for the same time. We arrive at 10 a.m. only to be told that the doctor isn't in yet. The waiting areas is pretty deserted so we grab a seat and wait for the doctor.

-10:30 The doctor is still not in
-11:00 The waiting area has gradually filled up and people mill around waiting for the numbers to be called.      We are told  the doctor will be here in 5 minutes
-11:30 The nurse checks our vitals...still no doctor
-12:00 Guess who shows up to work?! The Doctor!!! He shuffles us both into his office and apologizes profusely for being 2 hours late. He firsts asks my roommate some questions regarding why she's here today. Doctor:Why have you come to visit?
Roomie: I just want a routine pap spear and STD test
Doctor: Why?
Roomie: ...Why?!
Doctor: yes, why do you need this
Roomie: because, I'm sexually active...
Doctor:..Right now!?
Roomie: No, not right now! In general...I'd also like an HIV test
Doctor: Why do you want that? Do you think you've been exposed?!
Roomie: No, in the U.S. it's routine to get one
Doctor:..you know it can have some serious implications...
12:20- We are both checked out separately and he hands us each the slides to take to the lab ourselves. He says he'll be in on Wednesday and Saturday of next week if we want to come and pick up/discuss the lab results.
- We arrive at the lab in the room a few doors down and we're told that we must first take the slides and forms to the lab upstairs then return downstairs so that my roommate can get her blood drawn for the HIV test
-At the upstairs lab, we are told to go back downstairs, get a stamp on our forms at the cashiers desk, then return with the slides and paperwork
-Downstairs, the cashier tells us he doesn't have the stamp and to check the lab on that floor
-Back at the lab, the secretary at the desk tells us to wait as he finishes his phone conversations
-1:00 once the receptionist is done chatting on the phone, he kindly informs us that he doesn't have the stamp and to go to the cashier. We tell him the cashier sent us to him!
-The lab receptionist fetches the cashier who informs him that he has no idea what any of us are talking about
-Suddenly, the receptionist remembers that he actually does have the stamp we need!
- The receptionists computer has decided that now is the perfect time to malfunction. This sets the process of getting the stamp, which I'm now convinced is some type of mystical creature, back another 20 minutes
-We leave the lab and return to find that the receptionist has put our papers under a stack of forms and is busying himself with other matters. he tells us to wait five more minutes.
-Frustrated, my roommate grabs our forms and slams them on his desk, "I've been here since 10 am! I'm not leaving until you give me the stamp!"
-The receptionist barely looks up at her. "5 more minutes, " he says again and the people in the lab are at the audacity of this foreign woman. i, on the other hand, am both bewildered and amused as I stand in the corner and laugh to myself
-1:50 We get the stamp! The slides and forms are delivered to the upstairs lab
-2:00 My roommate has her blood drawn and the day is finally over! We stumble out of the hospital exhausted after the 4 hour battle

I return on Wednesday evening to get my results. I was surprised to find that the doctor was not there! I was told to go up to the lab to pick up my results. After 20 minutes of searching through several logs, asking different technicians if they'd seen my file, and looking through the system, my lab results were found! The technician handed me the file triumphantly. Bemused, I looked over the scientific jargon and the results. Normal, everything's ok. Casually looking at the computer screen, the technician says, loud enough for the entire lab to hear, "You know you have the HIV..." I felt like someone had just kicked me in my stomach! Trying to remain composed, "What?!"  "The HIV, it's downstairs in the blood lab." Before my life could flash before my eyes, I realized something, "Wait... I didn't take a blood test!" The technician looks at me then looks back at the screen, "Oh, well, thats not for you. Sorry."
WWWWOOOOOOWWWWW...In utter relief, I just laughed hysterically and left!


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Monday, August 9, 2010

I'll Teach You How to Act in Public!

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On my way to class each day, I pass by an all-girls, private elementary school. Like all private facilities in Cairo, police guards stand outside of the school's gates to monitor who comes in and out. Today, as I walked by, one of the police officers made kissing sounds, spsst, and shouted at me. I  ignored him and continued on my way to class.

A few hours later, when class was over and I was walking back to the metro, I saw a few young hijabi girls leaving the gates. Once the same gaurd noticed me, he began making kissing noises and shouting again. That was it! I snapped! How is this little fucker going to protect these girls if he doesn't even respect women! I stopped in my tracks, turned around, and marched towards him. He'd been leaning against a car with a sly grin on his face but when he saw me coming his way, he stumbled to get to his feet and adjust his uniform. I stopped inches from him and demanded in Arabic, "Who's your boss?" He stammered for a while trying to think up a response. The more he stammered, the madder I became, "Who is your fuckin' boss," I asked again, this time in English. Having regained his composure, he pointed at his gun holster and the patch on his arm designating his rank as if to warn me.

I've had about all I can take of Egyptian men! I clenched my fist and asked him again, "Who is YOUR BOSS!" The other guards had walked over by now but they all stood back to see how he would handle the situation. He stood his ground for a few more seconds as a mix of emotions passed over his face, finally he settled on embarrassment and his shoulders stooped. He backed away from me and put his hands up in surrender, "Asfa, Ana asfa." Sorry, I'm sorry. The gaurd closest to him repeated his apology. Recognizing my small victory, I decided to leave it at that. I walked away with my held head high as all the police guards looked down at the ground to avoid making eye contact with me.



Guess who's blog is a finalist for BEST TRAVEL BLOG 2010?!! MINE!!! Thanks everyone for voting for me! please take a moment to vote 1 last time for BLACK IN CAIRO: http://bit.ly/cnMGuT



In The News:
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Thursday, August 5, 2010

Building Monuments to Nothing

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This bleaching cream high rise stands in the center of Spinney's, the contemporary supermarket inside of City Stars Mall. City Stars is the ritziest mall in Cairo serving an upper-crust clientèle with stores/brands  from all around the world.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Tugging At My Heartstrings

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Nothing humbles you quicker than being confronted with your own privilege. As difficult as Egypt has been, the reality is is that it has provided me with one of the few opportunities in my life to break into an upper-class sphere simply because the majority of  people around me are so poor. Due to 1) the strength of the U.S dollar 2) the unspoken respect commanded by an American passport and accent 3) and a degree of self-censorship from the prejudices of the masses that I've face, I've been able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle even with the daily inconveniences of Cairo. I've struggled with this privilege and it's inherent elitism throughout my entire time in Egypt. As a child growing up, there were periods when my immigrant family did not even have hot water. Thus, to be unexpectedly catapulted into an upper-crust lifestyle when children beg outside my window has left me trying to reconcile my sucesses, my obligation to my fellow man, the Egyptian gvernment's obligation to its people, and  the complacency and creativity of the people.

The other day, I was riding the metro home on the metro when a woman put her child down on the ground next to my feet and started peddling her goods. I was sitting in the corner of the cart and stared down at the bundle in surprise. Often times, metro peddlers will hop from cart to cart selling everything from glue to hairpins for a few pounds. The peddler will throw his/her goods into each persons lap and return to pick up the money for good purchased or the goods that people did not want. This particular woman was dressed in a dirty gallabeyah with a scarf haphazardly wrapped around her hair. Her feet had been blackened by the dirt on the streets and flopped loosely in over-sized slippers as she walked. Beads of sweat mingled with the stray hairs on her forehead as she gathered her goods (hair clips, I believe) and began a sing-songy chant about the quality of the goods she was selling. As she worked her way up and down the aisle, the young girl she'd put down sat stunned for a moment as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The child could not have been more than a year old and once she realized that she was in a strange place without her mother, she let out a heart-wrenching wail. The mother flinched at the sound of her child's cries but continued to peddle her goods down the cart.

I looked down at the little girl who's face was now smeared with a combination of tears and dirt. Her wails finally subsided into pitiful hiccuped whimpers as if she'd realized that her mother needed to work and wouldn't come back for her until she was done. The girl cowered at my feet and I instantly wanted to save her from the life of hardship and unfairness that surely awaited her. For some reason, I felt guilty that she would not have the best things this world could provide as i took full advantage of the best her country could offer me. I'd seen Egyptian women offer their bottles of water to thirsty people when the heat of the metro became too unbearable on the hot summer days. I was always amazed at the ease in which people shared water and food here without a second thought about germs or disease. I pulled out my bottle of Dasani water, unscrewed the top, and, a little unsure of myself, offered it to the little girl. She took a long drink of the cool water and instantly stopped crying. She smiled at the bottle, unconcerned about the source that provided it to her. Seeing how happy it made her, I handed the bottle to her. As I got off the train, I looked back to see her small arms wrap around the bottle as she hugged it to her chest and quietly waited for her mother to return for her.

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Monday, August 2, 2010

Pictures from Every Day Egypt

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the overflow from Friday prayer in the park outside the mosque in my neighborhood


It is common to see men stop to pray in what ever space is available. here are some outside a shop




huge homes in the newly built suburbs of New Cairo loom imposing,expensive, empty and  uninviting. few people can actually afford to live in this new suburb yet

these old city buses creak along with everybody piled in for the ride!


Often an entire family piles up on 1 motorcycle; always makes me smile

Makeshift fruitstand in the downtown area line every street corner and alley

the juice man in Maadi suburbs! delicious fresh fruits and fruit juice are always in supply in Cairo!

across the Nile from Maadi. almost every builidng in the city maintains it's dull grey, cinder-block colour complemented layers of dusts years old

Inside the woman's cart when its not crowded. Here you can see the women and their children and the variations of burqa and niqab styles Egyptian women where on their head


the metro


Cairo streets are lined with trash everywhere. few trash cans in the city and public trash pick almost 
nonexistent. The smell can be ghastly 
one of the many neighborhood mosques and black taxi zooms by
the window of Egyptian shoe stores can be both tantalizing and overwhelming
Young boys can often be found doing hard labor to make money
at night, this average neighborhood is transformed into a bustling sooq (market)



Guess who's blog is a finalist for BEST TRAVEL BLOG 2010?!! MINE!!! Thanks everyone for voting for me! please take a moment to vote 1 last time for BLACK IN CAIRO: http://bit.ly/cnMGuT


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