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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I went to Algeria

I left the hotel, heading for the internet café; an important document had to be sent to the client as soon as possible.

It was up hill, on a level ground it would take up to 5 minutes when I am walking slowly, it felt like hours, I didn’t know how much was left for me to reach my destination.

I reached there feeling a little disoriented, I tried to explain to the guy that I want to plug in my laptop and I ended up showing it to him and he pointed out a place for me to sit.

It took me around half an hour to get done with the job, sent a few more emails to the guys at the office, closed my laptop and paid the guy 30 Dinars for 30 minutes and left, not knowing where to go I finished the street and decided to go the opposite direction to where the office is, it looked like a commercial street later to learn that it is the center of Algiers.

On the second crossroad I took a left, it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. At every corner there were some youth standing, at first glance they look like they are worked up for a fight, I realized that this is how Algerian youth spend there free time.

Ending the road to a place that had a lot of constructions going on with no shops in sight I decided to turn back, following the compass rule, I took another left and starting walking till the road came in sight, whenever you go downhill there will always be an uphill and now it was that time.

Just looking at the inclined road I felt too tired to climb, on the side of the road there was one of these groups that we see in all Cairo main streets. The bus came in a couple of minutes and I got up. It took me my whole journey to try and explain that I was going up hill, the journey ended and then I told him here I will get off and handed him 20 Dinars, he gave me back 10. “That was cheap” I thought.

I walked in the direction of the office in a street that reminds me a lot of Ismaelia, a city in Egypt that I grew familiar with for that fact that my cousins lived there, we used to go there more than 3 times a year and I even started going there alone when I was 14 years old.

I walked for some time now looking at shops and buildings; I stood in front of the office for a couple of minutes thinking if I should go or not. I opted not to go, it would have seemed like I was begging for attention, deep down I was but I had no intention of translating this into action.

I went down the street hoping to find a place that offers Shisha as this was my third day without, I just missed the action and not the smoke, I had my cigars and they were enough for now.

Walking down a street that I had just got familiar with this morning when we were going for our presentation at the other side of the city and I remembered that the nearest place was too far I just got on the first bus that came in sight.

I got off at the end of the line, remembering my friends instructions on going somewhere, I asked about a place called Hedra, I didn’t know where I was going or what I wanted from this place, I just heard that Hedra is a nice place to be, they started saying old Hedra and new Hedra and then they told me a street name that I have also heard about, “Sidi Yehya” I told them that I know this place and would love to go there, and I road my third bus.

As it is the fact anywhere, foreigners are treated in two ways, either feared or made fun of, people were telling me stuff that I did not understand and laughed, I tried my bet to communicate my inability of understanding French and that if they speak slowly in Arabic I would understand the slang.

Some of the people tried to translate in much worse Arabic, and whenever I found that I had no answer for what they were saying I played dumb and I looked like I did not understand.

I sat next to this guy who claimed to have an Egyptian friend that he met in the Haj a few years back and started telling me stories about all the Egyptians he knew in his life. I was not really interested in what he was saying but I was trying to be as polite as possible, when it came time to pay he aggressively said: “your Dinars are no good here” asking the guy to return the 50 Dinar coin that I had paid to him.

I took it thanking him for the gesture, and put it in my pocket and listened to him trying as much as possible to answer him and say maybe few complimentary words in response of him being so in love with Egypt and the Egyptian culture, of course that was after he told me that Algeria is the center of Arab culture, to that I shook my head in agreement.

We arrived at a station on the highway and the driver got down, signaled me to get off and told me to take the bridge, and take a street straight ahead till I find my destination, now that I have a destination that was put for me I was happy about it as much as worried.

I was not sure that this place is where I want to be, and I was not sure that the road that was pointed out is the one taking me to this place, my fears sky rocketed when I entered the street with cheap apartments on the two sides of the road. Remembering every nigger movie I’ve ever saw, imagining that I will see a car passing by slowly with four guys in it and stop in front their rival gang and shoot them with automatic weapons and at last, I saw my destination.

I found the fastest way down this hill, taking a slope down then the first stair case I could see I was in the street that I was looking for, cars everywhere, people trying to walk past the traffic, pretty girls going up and down the street and best of all coffee shops.

My main reason for going there was to get Shisha, and now I was close. I walked down the street looking at every store, I found one of Raya stores, an Egyptian Nokia dealer, then a few shops down the other side, I went in a shop to buy a recharge card, I tried to communicate that I wanted a card for 200 DZD and she was bringing out a 3000 DZD card, I managed to make her understand, thanked her and left.

The first place with Shisha was at the end of the street, I went in got a seat and asked for shisha and coffee, it turned out that coffee will mean espresso whenever you do not state otherwise, I asked for a bottle of water, he got me a glass bottle that looked like the Schweppes bottles only it was in light blue, he opened it and I started drinking my coffee with the Shisha.

Some time later I called Amit and found out that he would have stayed in the hotel for the rest of the night if I had not called him. I explained where I was, called Sherine and my mom a few times before either number managed to connect. I was done with my phone, I got out my book and started reading, I was at the part were they are on their way to Siwa and there was a storm, it reminded me of all the rough times I faced in my life and how I managed to get out of it every single time.

Amit came and we chatted about different things, hunger was creeping on us, we went to a place that offers Shawerma, they only had Turkey which was fine, not how I am used to it but it was good.

Then we went to eat at a different place, before which we went into a supermarket a checked on the key clients that might be working there and how we can make any use of this market from our office.

Shops were closing by and we got some other type of chicken and meat on sticks with bread and French fries. This place was even harder to communicate with the people working there but we also managed.

After a nice meal an another 1000 DZD we tried calling the one taxi that we know a number for, seems like he decided to take the rest of the day off, fine by us as long as we can go back, we found one parked on the other side, buying fruits for his family and looks like he is heading home.

Approaching him, to my delight he asked about our destination which if any implies that there is hope for us to get to the hotel at this hour, for the record, it is now 10:30 p.m. and we got in.

Back to the hotel, for the first glance it looks like a 2 star hotel, wired looking ceramics on the floors, gold wall paper, going into my room for the first time I was shocked to how the floors were, ceramics of the type and colors that I would not put in my service balcony, green wallpaper that looks like the 70s and 80s in Egypt.

First day we had a corridor discussion on our options, and we decided to stay, too tired from the trip, we went for dinner and then back to sleep.

On Tuesday we had a lot of work to be done and so little time to do it, we had to deliver questionnaires, answer mails and phones calls.
Sitting in the same room for too long and make you feel wired at times, if it weren’t for the cigars I brought with me I would have been stuck in this room for the whole day, not even knowing what time it is.

We almost finished the presentation, tired as hell we went to the hotel and got dinner there, they were closing up so there was not a lot of things left in the menu, only two types of steak and salad and omelet, I went for the steak and Amit ordered omelet which ended up not being there, he took some desert and we went to sleep.

I sat there finishing up the presentation, slept at midnight and woke up an hour later, I managed to put myself back to sleep in around half an hour and a few minutes later my alarm went off declaring 6:00 a.m.

I had some comments to finalize and conclusions to make, everything was as scheduled, we went to the client’s place 30 minutes late and it was not even noticed. Greeted by a French guy from the innovation team, we were lead to a meeting room down stairs.

There we were introduced to the marketing team from Algeria and the presentation started, going through the findings, I felt we had a lot of insights to add, and they really appreciated it.

Three hours later we were done, we thought it will take an hour but that was not the case, we took the time assigned for the two presentations, it was a nice feeling, we started of with ignorant people and we had the chance to educate them, we conquered the whole place.

I do not know how happy can this make Emile, but I hope it does make her happy enough to continue working with us.

We asked for a coffee shop or a restaurant, this was going to be breakfast, we didn’t mind walking for 10 minutes or so, we ended up at the main street and found ourselves in front of a modern café, and you will never imagine this, a WiFi.

In a matter of seconds we knew why was that, this was the place for embassies, every other embassy was located in this area and one smart guy saw the opportunity and grabbed it.

We had an OK meal, and sent and received a few meals waiting for it, dead beat we went to the hotel and I went off to sleep. I woke up 3 hours later with a request from Amit to send the questionnaire to the client so he can go and take his turn sleeping.

After the long day, going to the presentation then the trip to Hedra at night, this was a definite slumber. I slept so fast I cannot remember what happened before that. My guess was that I watched T.V. for some time and left off to wonderland.

I woke up today at 9:00 a.m. no alarm, no door knock, I just woke up. Being a country that closes early I must tell you that it is healthy, we sleep early, wake up early and have the blast of our lives in the morning.

Breakfast was the same, French bread and bakery, jam and lots of other sweets this was a terror breakfast for me. I ate and we went to a shop nearby to try and find some things to buy for family and friends, we called the taxi, came to office again and sat down to work.

A few quick emails and off to lunch we went, stopping by a shop to get some gifts, I found this cute crystal thing, I cannot call it anything but it is nice. Of course I got this for the house but still the house is her palace and this is for her.

The place was small and crowded, I recon this was because there are a lot of companies around, but it served good food also and this is something that I feel is not common in Algeria.

After lunch we decided to go to a place were we could buy something that resembles the country, Di Douch Mourad a street that looks like Mourad st. in downtown Cairo, it was downhill and all the buildings are white with blue balconies.

Feeling like a real tourist, we went into every shop we could find that had something resembling Algeria, we found four shops with some common things and some other unique stuff. Finishing our shopping we decided to go somewhere for coffee, it was quite interesting how places can be so near but yet so different.

The Lebanese restaurant was were we got off, we tried to find a place that offers shisha and we went around for 20 minutes and came back to the same place again.

Later we went for coffee, the place looked like on of the local coffee shops in Egypt without Shisha or games, same noise, please are sipping their coffee and chatting, this is one of the benefits of not having games there, people have this nothing else to do than engage in conversations, I liked that.

They write the T in Arabic using a letter that is not in the English alphabet, it looked funny in the word “Taxi” and “Sheraton”

We were now trying to kill time, it is too quite, life there was too slow. We walked down the street and up again waiting for our ride back to the hotel.

We went back to sleep early, we had a flight in the morning, or at least we thought so. In the airport the guy told us we had cancelled reservations, after a hard time we had to go to the counter and check in again as waiting list. Forty five minutes before leaving we still had no idea if we would enjoy more time in the lovely Algiers.

We boarded, checked in our bags and went off to the plane, we went through a few checks, and we got our stamps and were ready to go. The last guy before the plane had only one responsibility, check if we have any money or gold with us. We did not have that much money on us, we just went though.

On the plane I sat next to a guy from Algeria and the other side an Egyptian, It was a quite flight home, looking at the two countries that we pass home, feeling how big our planet is, thinking about all the fights for power and wealth, for land and oil, I could not quite get it from up there, it looked like there is enough for everyone, or maybe not, but it looked big enough.

Coming to some natural turbulence, the guy next to me seemed worried about it then he asked if that was normal, with a smile from behind my heart I said it is fine and that everything will be great, thank God everything went fine.

Landing at the Cairo airport, the air was not as polluted as my last landing in 2005, yes it was that long.

No one was waiting for me in the Airport this time, I was glad about it, I don’t like it and it feels like coming back from a 5 month trip on a camel, I had to wait for the security check due to my common name, I waited for 20 – 30 minuites, killing time by having a phone call which ended in 10 minutes and I just waited for the rest.

That was home at last, it felt like I have been away for a long time, maybe that’s how it will feel every time. I’ll have to wait for the next time to see.
The End

9 Comments:

  • At 11:29 PM , Blogger Eman M said...

    :)

    How would they think that Algeria is the center of Arab culture?
    Hazolat:)

     
  • At 9:36 PM , Blogger Ahmed ElSharawy said...

    They have it written everywhere on the walls of the streets. They have to believe it by law I think... :)

     
  • At 3:37 PM , Anonymous Steve El-Sharawy said...

    Common name eh? I must watch out then if I ever visit Egypt, as El-Sharawy is my name also. In fact my father's name is Ahmed El-Sharawy. Mine's Steve. It was nice to stumble upon this blog. Take care.

     
  • At 12:48 PM , Blogger Ahmed ElSharawy said...

    Well, it;s the other names that I am worried about, I have a "Ahmed Mohamed Mohamed" name, so no worries from your side

     
  • At 8:49 PM , Blogger stiff said...

    Is your Dad called Magdi and your brother Mahmood?

     
  • At 3:57 AM , Blogger stiff said...

    Hey, I hope you see this question - it's Steve El-Sharawy who posted the comment above before!

    Let me know if I have the right person!

     
  • At 11:45 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi Steve,
    This is Sherif Ahmed Elsharawy.
    Is UR father is egyptian? did U visit Egypt before, am so intersted as we might know eachother some how.

     
  • At 11:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Hi steve,
    This is Sherif Ahmed Elsharawy.
    Have U ever visit Egypt before.
    Common Father Name ha?
    Lets communicate with each other if U do not mid.

     
  • At 11:59 AM , Blogger stiff said...

    Hello Sherif,

    I've been to Egypt 3 times when I was much younger, maybe nearly 20 years ago! My father is Egyptian yes.

     

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