"Good afternoon. I called you yesterday but you didn't answer."
It was the real estate agent. I was tired of looking at flats. I just wanted to not spend a small fortune and have somewhere to spread my stuff out. But I'd run into him on the street.
"Come by later. I will have my staff show you more places."
They did, and the places were more of the same. I GET IT. Living in Zamalek means taking up residence in an ancient, huge diamond-in-the-rough apartment with an ornate sitting room and a crappy kitchen. Paying more means a Nile view and internet access. I get it. Stop hitting me over the head with it now. I'll take the crappy kitchen.
The next morning, I went by to see the real estate agent again. I had something to say.
"You know the $1200 one with the ADSL and the Nile view? Just call him and offer him 5000 pounds. He can take it or leave it, but I am tired of looking."
"Why don't we offer him $1000?"
Sigh. Fine. But I was going for pounds because my offer won't be accepted and he'll counter, and I'll end up paying more anyway. Not happy about any of this, but sick of looking.
The real estate agent put me on the phone with the owner, a doctor. I wasn't altogether comfortable with this arrangement. I thought there was an agent in order to avoid me negotiating directly. But the doctor countered with $1100. I countered with $1050.
"Oh come on," said the doctor. "Fifty dollars is nothing to you."
You're not supposed to blow your top in negotiations, but where the hell does he get off assuming that just because I am American, I am filthy rich?
"Obviously you've confused me with a rich American. Fifty dollars is NOT nothing. I have paid only $550 a month to live in a nicer place in Kuwait and also in Kampala. I only pay 900 euros a month when I live in Spain. Why should I pay more to live in Cairo? You are talking about New York rents. There are many things wrong with that flat and I don't need a three-bedroom and I'm only taking it because it has internet and I am going to have to scrub the kitchen as it stands."
"It will be clean."
"Okay, and the ADSL will be working?"
"Okay. $1050, right?"
"No," said the doctor. "$1100. I can rent this for a lot more money to someone else."
"Then maybe you should."
"Yes, maybe I should."
I handed the phone back to the agent. I knew it could go either way. I almost blurted out, "tell him $1100" but I waited. The agent had words with the doctor and hung up.
"Okay, $1050. We will meet here at 3. You can get two months cash in advance?"
"What? No! I can't get that much. The ATM won't let me."
"Okay, get what you can. We will give him that today and the rest when you move in. When do you want to move in?"
"The day after tomorrow. Tomorrow they can clean and get the internet working."
"Good. Here is the address for Citibank. One more thing."
"Would you like a job? I really need an English-speaking agent."
I declined and went back to the Mayfair to check my bank balance. What? Negative $400? Guess those checks haven't come through yet, and the Kuwait payroll hasn't happened yet. So much for the rich American. Ah, well, that's what overdraft is for. The condo will cover me.
Then, what the hell is this? Foreign fees? Citibank is charging me a FEE to get my money out of the ATM? I've spent $46.68 in FEES for NOTHING? *%$#@!! And taking the rent out of the ATM is going to add even more to that?
I marched right over to Citibank.
"I am sorry but the Egypt Citibanks are not on the network with the US banks. You cannot withdraw from a teller from your account or avoid fees. You must withdraw from the ATM. It would be the same if I went to your country. I would pay a fee."
Swell. I feel great about it now.
I asked the Citibank rep if I could get a local account. "Yes, but you must have a residence visa."
I'm not getting one of those. We're not even officially a company yet and I'm only here for two months. But how to get around endless fees to get my own money? This hadn't happened before with Citibank, and I'd chosen it precisely because it was an international bank.
I could only get 1500 LE at a time out ($263) of the ATM, so I kept pushing buttons until I maxxed out my daily rate. I just made it to one month's rent.
At three, my passport, cash, and I were waiting at the real estate agent's office. An antiques shop had taken up residence on the open-air mezzanine nearby, and some men plonked out melodies on the pianos, while gray kittens scampered around the pedals.
And I waited.