Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Simply tedious – but very normal

It’s ten minutes after nine and I am standing in front of the bank. But it’s closed. I know that during Ramadan, banks are open only until 1.30 pm. But I haven’t realized that they open only at half past nine.

So I wait. Not only twenty but even twenty-five minutes. First outside in the heat, then in the iced antechamber. The security is reading in the Qur’an and chatting. More and more clients join me. I see even Egyptians don’t know that the bank opens that late. One of them is checking his watch continuously while I am wondering. How can business life work when banks are open only for four hours daily? I remember that one of my students told me that banking business is anyway at a minimal level. I feel dizzy since I haven’t drunken enough; I left home right away after breakfast. I try to avoid drinking in public during Ramadan. I contemplate the waiting men and wonder if there is such a gentlemen who remembers that I came first.

No. When the door finally opens, I’m boiling inside. As usual, the men are pushing forward and, hardly being able to pull myself together, I remind the Egyptian gentlemen in English and aloud that I was first. Two of them deafly turn their back on me; another one asks me to step forward and apologizes.

It’s so tedious – but unfortunately so normal!

I want to withdraw Euros and change them into Pounds. The National Bank next door gives the best currency exchange rates. Then I return to my bank and deposit the Pounds. Actually, this is very silly in times of internet banking and eventually, I have to wait another twenty minutes in the National Bank. There are around twenty desks but only a single one is for currency exchange.

It’s just so tedious.

I get in a microbus because I have to go to the passport office. Just this bus does not go to the usual place and while I’m putting up with it, a passenger chats up and asks where I come from. This is unusual in a microbus and my steam boiler inside is about to explode. I get off the bus and take a taxi, telling the driver where to go. However, he gazes puzzled. I repeat passport office in Arabic and ask if he has understood – could be that today, my Arabic is not understandable. Yes, yes, he answers and at the next roundabout he asks a pedestrian. Oh, my steam boiler! I instruct the driver where to go. Being so happy he starts asking the usual questions: if I work here, if I am married, if to an Egyptian… “chalaass!” – enough, I said! I’m glad that we arrive at the passport office.

It’s just normal – but also rather tedious.

There, to my utmost displeasure, the lady tells me that I copied the wrong visa. I need a return-visa and for this I have to copy all kinds of stamps and the passport. So I take my papers and go outside in the blazing sun, and walk about 10 minutes to a small copy shop that makes copies for all the forgetful people like me. I think he is making a fortune. If the passport office was clever, they would also install a copy machine – would be worth it. On the way, I am passing by men of the central security forces. They are the ones in black, standing at check points and doing the filthy jobs at demonstrations. They lay or sit on the pavement in the shadow, in their troops vehicle, sleep or gawk at every passer-by. The windscreen is cracked, the vehicle itself in a lamentable condition – a picture of Egypt. 10 minutes to walk back in more heat and I hand over passport, copies and money. Only prepayment works.

The return-visa may be picked up at 1pm. I want to wait neither here nor somewhere else and much less do I wish to undertake the whole trip again. I’ll come tomorrow. „Mafiisch muschkilla“ replies the disgruntled looking lady. I’m glad.

Nevertheless, it’s tedious. I enjoy this task twice or thrice a year: upon visa extension and return-visas.

Another taxi: this time I only have to ask the driver to stop directly at the vegetable market. I quickly fetch some tomatoes and grapes and get in a microbus that heads towards home on the ring road. Sweat is running down my legs and with an angry gesticulation, I move away a boy’s knee since he doesn’t seem to realize that he touches me all the time. My steam boiler is cooling off, I feel sorry for the boy – Egyptians don’t know anything about a respectful distance to another human body. How should this boy know it? Soon I’m at home.

The entire trip lasted almost four hours, including, or rather because of the waiting time. And tomorrow I have to go again to the passport office in order to pick up my passport. It’s tedious, but very normal. I’m glad that I neither own real estate nor a car – because in that case I’d have to deal more frequently with public departments.

What for I need the visa? I’m flying home on Sunday.

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