Sunday, October 09, 2005

Last night I had the pleasure of having beers (on the famous Marriott garden promenade in Zamalek, no less) with the Arabic literature specialist Raymond Stock - you can read a good interview with him here - who translates the Nobel-prize winner Naguib Mahfouz. Raymond told me he would be happy to introduce me to Naguib Bey (who turns 94 in December) provided I, er, read some of his stuff first.

Today I experienced the Mugamma for the first time. The Mugamma is the Egyptian Ministry of something awful; it looms over Midan Tahrir, downtown Cairo's traffic-congested main square, as though it were architecturally designed to make you feel small and insignificant. Just the word "Mugamma" -- go ahead, say it out loud -- is obviously meant to inspire exisential dread.

Well, here's the thing, folks. Once you get past the facade and walk up the main flight of stairs, it's really not so bad. Sure, it's total chaos, and not much is written in English, but I managed to find what I was looking for (the Residence section), get the form, fill it out, buy the correct number of stamps at window #43, have some photocopies of my passport made, and file my application a time span that didn't feel much longer than 30 minutes. Tomorrow, at 10am, at window #38, inshallah, I'll get my residence stamp.

The one thing that makes all the difference in the world is that the people behind the windows are actually very polite and helpful. This is not the case in some -- ahem -- some other places in the world I've dealt with. (Yes, the Czech comparisons will peter off at some point, but this one was just a bit too obvious.)

UPDATE: I spoke to soon. I did indeed get my stamp at window #38, but it was so hellish I don't really want to talk about it. Good news, though: It looks like I'm going to Syria next week.


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