I’ve written about repairmen before, but reminiscing with someone about our life in Cairo reminded me of my year–long struggle with air conditioning which, as the summer here in Toronto draws to a close, seems like a fitting topic for a blog post.
We were fortunate to live in a brand new apartment building for the year we spent in Cairo. It sounded great until we got possession and I realized all the construction debris had been left behind for us to deal with … but that’s another story.
While in Azerbaijan we had the old-style window air conditioners and in Dubai full-on central air, in Cairo we had ‘split’ air conditioners, which means there’s a unit on the wall inside and the compressor sits outside, mounted on brackets. There was one unit for each room, except the kitchen. Why no a/c in the kitchen, I wailed? I was told that the maid didn’t need a/c. Unfortunately, in our case, the maid was me. No, we didn’t live on salad for a year, but I was sorely tempted.
We arrived in January when the weather was still cool, but as the thermometer rose we decided it would be a good idea to get the compressors cleaned before firing them up. Anyone who’s visited Cairo will know that everything, and I mean everything, is covered in dust. You might think it’s the sand blowing in from the Western Desert, or the mummies’ tombs, but the most likely suspects are the cement factories just to the south of the city.
The Engineer arrived with his young assistant (everyone has an assistant in Egypt, sometimes the assistant has an assistant) equipped with a dustpan and brush. To my horror he was instructed to climb out the window and perch on top of the compressor outside and brush it clean. We were on the 8th floor – refer to my photo above to appreciate my full horror. I felt like someone out of a Dickens novel sending a small boy up the chimney.
Fast-forward a couple of months into full-blown summer and a large puddle developed in my son’s room. The a/c was deemed to be at fault and the Engineer was summoned again. This time a condensate drain was needed, which required a hole to be drilled in the wall. The assistant brought in a fearsome looking drill for this purpose, which for some strange reason had no plug on it, just bare wires sticking out the end of the cord. The assistant’s job was to stuff the bare wires into the electrical socket while the Engineer drilled the hole (obvious serious work, if the Engineer himself did it). Every couple of minutes the wires would fall out of the socket, and the assistant would duly stuff them back in again. Why? Why? I asked myself.
All this time we had yet to receive an electricity bill. Our neighbours, fellow Canadians working for British Gas, assured us that it would take a while because it was a new account, but as the months ticked by we grew increasingly concerned about how large the bill would be when it finally came. I carefully socked money away in the lockable drawer in our bedroom, crossing my fingers it would be enough. We exhorted our son to “Turn that damn a/c down, it’s like the Arctic in here!”
Finally as September rolled around and we were told another move was on the cards, I decided something had to be done. I kidnapped OH’s assistant from the office one morning and we headed off to the electricity company in search of a bill. We trailed from room to room, from one disinterested clerk to another. Huge ledgers were consulted (no sign of computers here) and finally we were told that the bill was paid. How could that be? Who had paid the bill? Further consultations revealed that our benefactor was British Gas. Aha, a lightbulb moment! There were several British Gas families in our building, including our neighbours, obviously our bill was being paid in error. Back to the office and OH got on the phone to the accountant at British Gas. Long and short of it, he completely denied they were paying our bill. No amount of argument would persuade him otherwise. But by then we were getting wise to bureaucratic incompetence and denial. To this day we suspect he just didn’t want to admit a mistake had been made.
As we started to pack up for yet another international move, the bedroom drawer offered up a cash bonus to mitigate our disappointment at leaving Cairo so soon.