Wednesday, March 24, 2010

About feeling extremely safe... most of the time

Here in Cairo it is really obvious, but last October (2009) when we were in Hurghada it was obvious as well. Egypt takes its law enforcement really serious.

Everywhere you go, you're bound to see policemen taking care of... well you. Look closely and you'll see different kinds of policemen. Some are just plain police, they're typically recognized by the fact that they have no real distinctive signs on their uniform. They're just wearing a uniform in the universal police color, blue. And I have no idea why everywhere in the world, the police is wearing blue uniforms, although they're actually not in Germany, and probably not in many other countries as well. So maybe blue isn't that universal. Anyway, I'm getting off topic here.
Besides the regular policemen, you'll see some trainees, they're recognizable by the lack of big guns. The other day I saw some with StarWars light-sabres kind off weapons, which were very much resembling the ones you can buy at Toys-R-Us to be honest. The regular police is packing big guns, automatic, wooden grip, might be AK47, although I haven't heard any go off, and from the movies I know that the AK47 makes a very distinctive sound. Which movie was that? That's righ, Full Metal Jacket. One of the best Vietnam movies.
When you're taking part of traffic, i.e. you're in a car as pedestrians aren't really considered to be part of traffic. They're just surviving going from one sidewalk to another. So when you're part of traffic, you need to be aware of traffic police. But just for wearing your seatbelt and when you're driving you're not allowed to talk on the phone. Here the see no evil, hear no evil paradigm is important to keep in mind. For example, my driver lowers his phone when in eye-sight of a policeman, and he throws his seatbelt like a lasso around the handbreak as soon as we're entering an erea with a high policeman density. I guess that fines are serious enough for people to pretend that they care about their life and don't want to die in a traffic accident. And trust me, people die here in traffic accidents... or while waiting for the ambulance to take them to a hospital for that matter. By the way, the police nor the drivers here in Cairo care about speedlimits, tailgating, unnecessary honking or not turning on you head lights at night.
There's obviously the millitairy police, the MP, which you don't see that often, although here in Maadi you see them quite a bit. They take in many cases care of the diplomats in Maadi, especially around embassies. The MP, so I've been told, is not really involved in normal life here in Cairo. You can pretty much ignore them.

Most interesting is the 'Tourist Police', which I thought were just a bunch of people that were offered a job to lower unemployment rate. The tourist police is not around to fine tourists, or to lock them up for stealing remains of mummies from the pyramids. They don't carry guns I think, but that is maybe because they're too sophisticated. I've been told, that the tourist police is actually sort of a elite. They have had more training, including speaking common foreign languages. They are specific to an area in Cairo and know more about the area than regular policemen, especially when it comes to touristy things, like the whereabouts of landmarks and such.

So when you're in Cairo you're bound to see a lot of police, most will carry guns, big guns. Serious stuff with lots of bullets. Big bullets. But all to protect you, being not a policeman. Only in traffic, they're not protecting you. In many cases they are busy taking care of themselves, trying not to get hit by a swerving taxi. Many of these gun-packing policemen seem trustworthy when it comes to their gun. But there are plenty I'd rather see without a gun.

So, you can feel really safe here in Cairo. Really.


PS: Sofar I have to admit, that Cairo seems to me being one of the safest cities I've been. Never have I felt threatened or did I worry. You're totally good when passing a group of youngsters minding their own business, which they have no intention to making your business. Something I can't say about New York City, Amsterdam, Berlin or Singapore. Even in Almere you don't feel at ease when passing a group of youngsters as they often behave like a pack of wolves. Nope, sofar I feel really safe in Cairo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You are who you know.

This week I was introduced into the wonderous world of being defined by the people you know. Actually last week this was already pointed out to me, and this week it was confirmed.

In Egypt it really matters to a great degree on who you know in order to what you can get done. When you know somebody high up in the ranks of a business, you'll be certain to get that job you want. The higher up you know somebody, the better your chances. This can get to a degree that normal procedures and processes don't apply to you anymore. But there's a downside to this as well. In most cases people know that you know people and this is when they stop treating you as if you are the right person for the job. Once word gets around you know people, you can face an attitude of your co-workers oozing your incompetency. So although you got in easy, you're bound to be hard pressed to proof yourself.

And then there's the case where you need to get things done. The other day I had no internet connection because the bill wasn't paid. So my landlord and myself went to the provider to pay the bill. It was just after 9 PM and they were closing. People were standing in front of the office begging to do their bidding, but the guard was clear: Tomorrow another chance.
As it turns out, my landlord knows the CEO or GM of the provider and has his mobile number to proof it... very convenient, because although the bill couldn't be paid, they made sure to reconnect me and within minutes, literally, I had internet again.

Yup Egypt is all about who you know... knowing the people high up, means you get things done, your doors are opened, you're in.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bridge over the river Nile

While driving around in Cairo, Egypt, you'll notice that there is hardly anywhere you can just take some relaxing time and enjoy yourself watching the masses. Although considering the Egyptians, they're not that openly voyeuristic as westerners. I'm sure though that Egyptians look around at other people as well... hmm on second thought maybe not as not paying attention while anywhere near a car might get you killed.

But back to this post, you won't find a lot of opportunity to relax in Cairo's busy, extremely busy street. And on top of that, Cairo is rather smoggy and dusty. There are here and there some parks that provide some solitude and in case you're wondering, just like Central Park in New York City, these parks are also small refuges for everyday's hectic.

But the Cairotians have found another spot for relaxation after a hectic and busy day: The bridges over the Nile. As these bridges are offering sidewalks as broad as 3 meters, you'll see plastic chairs all along the bridge and as soon as the working day has ended for most people, it starts for some. Little carts with food and water are pulled and pushed to their definitive spots on the bridge and pedestrians are claiming their seats for a view over the Nile. Young couples are sitting across from each other, holding hands at the most and looking intently to one another, taking in every word they're saying, and ofcourse a lot of fumes from the exhaust of cars passing by.
Sometime you'll see whole families gathering discussing the day or something else (my Arabic is not good enough to understand the little fragments of their stories that reach my ears between the honking of the cars). But one thing is important to notice, they all are enjoying life's simple pleasures to the fullest without the need for iPods to block out the rambling of your loved one and without a US$ 5 espresso with a US$ 15 panini with Norwegian salmon and imported real bull Mozarella on fresh pesto with Tuscanny sun dried tomatoes on a bed of cucumber/rucola salad... Which reminds me, I've got to check out that little coffee shop around the corner on Road 9 with the excellent fresh coffee smell. They serve sandwiches and the likes for brunch.

Next time more of my discoveries in Cairo, the one in Egypt.


Friday, March 5, 2010

What do you mean by shopping without leaving the house?


This is my blog about living in Cairo. There are many Cairo's in the world, but I mean Egypt. Every once in a while, by which I mean that I try to post weekly but it turns out to be less frequently, I blog about the differences between Cairo and the other places I lived and worked.

This time I want to convey a little bit of my experiences with going shopping. People that know me, know that I am a true consumer, yet I don't like to go shopping. I don't like to be around all these people who want to buy something. Maybe because deep down, I consider them competition. They might want to buy the same stuff as I do, and maybe they take the last one. I hate it when that happens, but always keep my cool about it. No shop-rage for me... violence is never an answer.
Because I don't like to go shopping, unless I'm pretty much the only one in the shop, which rarely happens. So internet is the answer for me, and I'm really happy with the likes of, and all the shop-comparison-sites. But here's the problem, there's hardly any webshop in Egypt. Many shops and brands have a web-pressence but pretty much none have a webshop. Meaning that I have to learn to go shopping again. Have money on me, not the plastic kind, but the paper and metal stuff that many people are so crazed about... until about 3 hours ago, where I learned that here in Egypt you don't use the internet to order your consumer thingies like groceries and all. Instead you just ring the supermarket, you tell them what you want and within an hour or so they knock on your door and here're the groceries.
Same goes for all the food. Even Mc Donalds delivers and so does KFC, Pizza Hut, the Chinese restaurant and pretty much every other stuff selling instution here in Cairo. Which is very convenient.

Only thing missing is a bank that delivers the money to your home instead of you having to walk over to an ATM. Maybe an idea that I'll whisper in one of our business guys at CIB. Could be groundbreaking.

So, ditch your computer and internet connection and invest in a landline, because that you need for ordering, as they know the address from that.

Untill next post,

Iwan from my apt in Maadi, Cairo. The one in Egypt.