Friday, September 1, 2017

Apartment Hunting in Alex

Asalamu Alaykom,

Writing to you from the SAME apartment I wanted out of two weeks ago.  I wanted a different apartment---like an apartment that has windows and natural light...kind of like the apartment in the picture above.

It hasn't happened.

I have now placed posters on the wall:  cacti in the desert, crystal blue lakes, snowy mountains.

"Do you want to stay here?!"  My hub asked upon waking up and seeing my late-night handy work.

"No, I just don't want to go crazy here, " was my reply.

Seriously, an apartment without windows looking out onto the world is a VERY difficult thing for me.

I used to have a book---one of those Little Golden Books for those of you in the U.S.  "Good Little Bad Little Girl".

I'll spill the spoiler:  it's the same girl.  Anyway, there was an Eloise Wilkin's illustration of the little girl's room and I hated it; I was petrified of it.  Why?  I couldn't see a door or window.  It looked like a horrible cell with no way out.


I'm living in it!

I wanted to get a different place, so I researched through listings on the net.

I took notes, had my hub make calls, and then we went to see some places.

The first place in was just right---too good to be true!  It was in the choicest neighborhood of Kafr Abdo where most of the other ex-pats live.

 It was overlooking a park.  The layout was well designed and the furniture was well chosen.  It was so spotlessly clean that moving in would be a breeze.

Of course there was a glitch.  The building not only housed that great apartment; it also housed a consulate.  It was a high security building with an armed guard in riot gear at the door.  While others might take comfort in a guy with a gun, I don't.  I feel nervous whether he's police, army or security.  Every guy with a gun is one judgement call away from killing someone.  I imagined my husband coming out of the elevator, yelling at my son to hurry up in order to catch the bus and catching bullets instead.  The other aspect there was being a target for terrorism which I don't even want to dwell on.  After a night's sleep, I had to be real that I could never relax in that building.

With that in mind, I started to look in another neighborhood.  My two guys have really liked where we've been staying in Smouha.  Smouha is central and has everything.  It's getting rebuilt and has many new store fronts and restaurants.  We can always find a market or a taxi.

I had my hub call a few real estate offices.  It's amazing how BADLY done real estate is in Egypt.  There's got to be somebody doing it right, but I haven't seen them yet.  Remember:  I spent sixteen months working in the biggest real estate office in my state (before they fired me for wearing hijab), so I know the business.

We arranged to meet a man.  We went to the street he told us to go.  He wasn't there.  He sent a young guy---a kid in shorts---to show us to the garage stall made into an office.  I had to keep walking outside to get some fresh air.  Lord!  It was not what I had been picturing.  Yet, the guy had keys to two apartments within walking distance, so we stayed with the appointment and went out with him.

The first apartment was on the seventh floor.  I'm trying to stay on fifth and below, but seventh is doable.  We walk in.  Sure enough, there's a dark red paint color as soon as you open the door with this large Baroque mirror ala Beauty and the Beast---like the sconces surrounding it were going to turn into hands and reach out to assist us.  The furniture, as always, is HUGE.  In Egypt, families want to show opulence through lots of big furniture sets.  The dining room table is big enough for six or eight.  There isn't just one sofa and chairs:  THERE'S TWO!  There's no floor space.  Two china cupboards (one with broken glass and no shelves).  Everywhere there was this feeling of despair.  This was were you stay when you are desperate; a dumping ground, a home for refugees from some life they are fleeing...all for 4,500 LE.  My housing allowance is only 2,500 LE.

The second apartment was promised to be better, but it was on the tenth floor.  We walked there and the building was better.  The problem is that these elevators are so small.  The young guy, my son, my hub, AND ME are in tight.  Up we go and it's slow and it feels sooooooooooo claustrophobic.  I have to shut my eyes and put my head on my hub's upper arm.  I can barely handle that feeling.

We enter in and there's a better feel with no weird red wall, and actual floor space.  It's still tight in there and still feels like a few too many families have been in and out.  The view from one of the bedrooms is of the square below, but the noise from the roundabout's BEEP!  BEEP!  BEEP! would not add to our comfort level.  The other bedroom was so small that there was only room for the bed and the wardrobe.  It was doable if we wanted to really work on it.  HOWEVER, the other place was 4,500 and this was now up over 5,000.  Plus, that elevator ride was really non-negotiable.  I walked down all the flights of stairs instead.

Why look for furnished instead of unfurnished?  In the States, I have never rented furnished, but in Egypt, you kind of have to.  Renting UNfurnished means no water heater, stove, fridge, washing machine, or AC.  I've been writing "wardrobe" because there are no closets in Egypt.  You can't just move in and hang up your clothes unless it's furnished.  Some unfurnished apartments don't even have kitchen cabinets.  Plus, the rent isn't really at a discount.  It's remains very high.

After that experience (a day wasted and energy exhausted), I had to re-think.  What was essential?  We needed safety.  For me, I don't feel safe so high up and I don't feel good in buildings that are highest security or lower levels of society.  I would rather have less furniture than more; better to have space to move.  I wanted a quiet place with less decorating.

All those boxes actually are ticked by the place we first settled into.

Would this be settling for less than what we wanted?  Yes.

Isn't it bad to settle for something?  No, not always.  I think it's realistic to admit that no place is perfect.  It's a home away from home for a year or two.  If something else comes across our radars, we can consider it then, but we need a place NOW.

Also, our money, while I can say we have enough, it isn't a ton.  The school pays for our apartment if it's one they've previously signed a long-term contract for it (at a discount) with the owner.  That's therefore a savings for us.  Otherwise, I'd be paying double AT LEAST without really seeing double the improvements.

If something goes wrong in the apartment rented by the school, it's on them.  They care and they deal with the landlord/landlady.  If it's just us?  Well, you better believe we would not fare so well.

This means we are choosing to stay in an apartment with very little nature light.  We are now dwellers of the cave.  However, we are determined to make this place work even though it has issues.  I've stopped looking for better because where we first dropped our suitcases feels more like home than any other place we've seen.

My hub arranged for a cleaning lady come (which is a whole other story) and we concentrated on a weekend-long cleaning spree.  Gone was the moldy junk (Alex has mold whereas Giza doesn't) and the dirt that used to hold potted plants.  The other unnecessary stuff was organized.  Floors and walls were cleaned.  Rugs?  Scrubbed.  It was intense!

It's taken so long to write this post that as I finish this, we're actually not in our Alexandrian cave.  It's Eid and we've traveled back to Giza for the long holiday.


We now have two homes.  This one is permanent and it is ours---all the sunlight that floods through our windows, and the two clotheslines are ours.  Our sofas and beds have always been ours and only ours.  It feels good.

When I fasted Arafat yesterday, it didn't feel as good to be here:  no AC!  We have it in Alex, but not in Giza (where it is ten degrees hotter to begin with).  There are differences that have me appreciating both places.  Yesterday, I surely could have used some cooling off and some quiet from the screaming kids.

This situation has become our new normal.  We have two homes with our belongings in two places.  We are living larger than before.  It's taken some real effort to continue with this plan to expand our world.  It has been both stressful and joyful in about equal amounts.

Is it worth it?

I hope so.  I hope that this way of living helps us see more, feel more, and realize more of our world and ourselves.

Next week, I will start teaching first grade in a new school inshahallah.  I'm not ready.  Part of the reason I'm not ready is that I have had to settle down our personal lives first.  Now that is done, my focus going to my professional life...well, and having El-Kid start seventh grade.  It's a lot to start all at once.

This experience has a name.  I've named it "my long-term working vacation".  Maybe that isn't a totally accurate term, but it's a vision of how I want it to be.  It's not forever; it's for a relatively short time and it's an adventure.  It think that framing these coming months that way will help keep a healthy perspective.

Any good energy you want to send our way during this transition, feel free.


**Freespirit said...

Eid Mubarak Yosra!

You always seem to tackle things with such positivity. Even as you write, I understand your frustration, however, your faith always shines through.
May Allah bless you and the family in this time as you transition.


Yosra said...

Eid Mubarak to you too, Salma!

Thanks for your du'a and I wish the same and even more for you and your family.

Thanks for suffering through that post. I re-read it just now and had to correct SO MANY typos. I guess there's too much going on for me to totally edit it right on the first shot. Hopefully, I've fixed the errors now.

I appreciate your kind words. Yes, staying positive is hard, but spiraling downward is worse. I'd rather use my energy to remain buoyant than sink and have to use my energy to try to get to the surface again.

Maybe this has been more of a struggle when I know that I'm the reason for two other people going through a hard time. I had the impetuous to leave and it's my job that's affording us the time in Alex.

Inshahallah, heading back for the second time to our new apartment will be easier as it's become more livable and more familiar.

Love and Light to You and Yours!

Anonymous said...

May Allah make it easy. We're in transition too, so mentally trying to be unstable for so many years. I read this blog to get a sense of somebody else struggling and getting through life. So interesting to see your journey over the last 10(?)+ years, it gives me hope too.


Yosra said...

Asalamu Alaykom Hamza,

I always forget that men might read my blog! Sorry for picturing every reader as female.

Ya Rab that we both submit to what's best for our lives and that Allah makes it easier on us. Transition is NOT easy! Anyone can move their body, but it's the mental work that really is hard. It's hard to wrap your brain around some of the blocks we ourselves put in place.

Thanks for letting me know why you read this blog. Ya, I do struggle---hopefully not flailing pointlessly---and I hope that I reach enough success to keep going.

Have you been reading THAT long? Have I been writing that long? El-Kid is now 12, so I suppose that I have. No joke: it's been a journey, right?

I'm glad that we can share some hope in thoughts and in shah Allah our deeds.

Light and Love to You and Your Family!