Our lunch at Baalbak was great and we could have easily sat around the congenial table and chatted for hours, but at seven they had to open for regular patronage. They finally shoved the last of us out of the room at about 6:40. To a certain extent, hysteria was setting in. We had a wedding in less that 24 hours.
Time for the Gifts
After lunch, Bill’s family went into a variety of directions. Some back to hotels, others to Mirette’s apartment and Bill wanted to know what I wanted to do. Well, my number one priority was still delivering gifts. Good husband that he is, he got us back to the hotel, gave me enough time to get the gifts wrapped and then arranged for someone to come pick us up, all so I could get the gifts off my list. Perfect. The bonus was that he got to take a nap – albeit one where he had his head covered with a pillow, because I was rustling tissue paper and gift bags.
In good American time, Mirette came to the hotel to pick us up. This is the point at which I get to tell you what a doll she is. She adores her Uncle Bill and is so sweet to me that I could just eat her up. This girl has a heart as big as they come and it is open to everyone. Love her!!
Sister Mona’s Old Apartment
Mirette’s apartment is in Heliopolis, not far from the Fairmont. It’s in the same neighborhood her mom used to live in. Bill was interested in driving around and seeing how things looked, because this is where Mona lived since the time he was a boy. He has fond memories of daily trips to the area for Mona to tutor him. Believe me, he was a lot more interested in the daily trips than he was in the tutoring.
I’d stayed with Mona for a day or two on our last trip and been amazed by a few of the constant inconveniences of life in Egypt. For one thing, they don’t have little things like building codes which demand that you must build a parking lot to accommodate the people living in a building. Parking cars two and three deep around a building was the norm. The density is hard to imagine. One huge multi-story apartment building after another built chock-a-block. You can literally reach across and steal your neighbor’s underwear hanging on the patio of an adjacent building.
You don’t need alarm clocks, because early morning prayers and the vegetable crier with the donkey cart will wake you up. The dust is appalling. You cannot keep a house clean. The water may or may not work. The same with electricity. Life is chaos. And this isn’t in the ghetto. This is in one of the best residential areas in Cairo. I found it mind-boggling.
Rent Control vs. Life Control
My liberal friends like to tout ideas like rent control. Before you think rent control is a good idea, take a gander at Egypt. It has rent control. The place is built and you pay through the nose for the most basic of apartments. The buyer is responsible for finishing out the apartment, so while you may have a very elegant tasteful finish, the guy on the next floor can negate it with his purple porch or maybe he’ll never finish it out, leaving a hole where there should be an apartment. Maybe he’ll put up curtains or build something on his patio. That’s tough, because once your in, you’re stuck. While things may seem expensive in the beginning, hang around, you’ll have a bargain in a few dacades.
My sister-in-law now lives in the apartment she renovated that belonged to her parent’s. The rent is equivalent to $10 a month. She’s got an absentee landlord who allows one of the tenants to be his super and the perk is this agent is allowed to run all kinds of scams – overcharging for electricity, doing faulty repairs, whatever. But Mona’s got it good. Her neighborhood is still one of the nicer ones available.
The worst part for Egypt is that Mona is the exception that proves the rule. She could afford to do a renovation and she works hard to keep her apartment clean and attractive. In most cases, by the time a family has lived a lifetime in an apartment, it desperately needs to be renovated, but there isn’t any money. The owner of the building certainly isn’t going to renovate it, because the building no longer has any value to him. He will continue to collect the minuscule rents until the last person there dies or maybe he won’t and if he doesn’t, maybe his super will take them for himself. Many, many buildings are in horrid disrepair. Perhaps there’s no one living there any longer and the owner has abandoned it. Perhaps there’s still a family or two in the building, praying they can somehow continue to get water and electricity until they are dead.
You can spend the next day or two trouble-shooting this, but you have two possible ends – the current situation remains or the government gets involved. We Americans assume that the government is just going to come in and fix everything, but what happens if the government we are depending on is broke. Welcome to Egypt. Let’s just hope it’s nothing like this ever happens to us, but just to be on the safe side, let’s not have rent control.