For the love of work

For what seemed like the millionth time, the short bald man with the messy moustache elbowed his way through the sweaty crowd, shouting “tea! Tea! Who wants tea?”

I didn’t understand how every two minutes he’d emerge out of nowhere with a tray full of piping hot cups of tea and come back ten seconds later with an empty tray. It was way too hot for tea. Iced tea would have been more appropriate –or chilled lemonade, for that matter.

I bet you’re confused. Let me back up.

After months of bombardment with the “have you started working yet?” question, I was delighted when I was finally accepted for a job.

I was never the job-hunting kind of person, but every single time a person would find out I was a graduate, the exact same dialogue would repeat itself.

Them: “Edaaaa! And where are you now?”

Me: “I’m right here…talking to you.”

Of course, they meant to ask where I was working. Egyptians just have a problem phrasing their questions and I have a problem understanding them.

I would eventually tell them that I was taking some time off, and then, as if on cue, they would tilt their heads to the left and give me a look of pure pity and go “awwww…maalesh…soon, soon.”

It had to stop.

And so, after finding a company kind enough to want me, I was excited and enthusiastic. I thought about all the amazing things I could do at my new workplace, how cute my cubicle would be and how I would tell people not to talk to me until I’d had my coffee (I’m a bitch in my work fantasies, apparently). Everything was settled except for one, teeny tiny detail.

I had to get some governmental documents first.

Of course, like any Egyptian female that cares about her self-respect, I had to find a way to avoid doing it myself. Maybe send a driver, a family member or even find some sort of influential friend who could get it done for me. But, of course, like everyone else, I was on my own. Every man for himself. Survival of the fittest and all that crap.

I needed three minor documents; one to prove I didn’t have a criminal record, one to get my insurance number and one to inform my dear government that I was about to become a working girl. Sounded simple enough.

Thursday was the day chosen for a morning full of disgruntled employees and rude customers cutting in line. I woke up early and wore the baggiest and most conservative clothes in my closet; a necessity when you have to go somewhere full of sexually depraved Egyptian men. I looked in the mirror and a baggy-looking penguin stared back at me.


I got into the car and told the driver where our first stop was: the Dokki police station. According to my brother, it was the least disturbing one in the entire Giza district. I needed the driver to drive and enter the places with me; God knew I wouldn’t be able to get anything done by myself.

We reached the station, double parked (hey, it’s Egypt!) and got inside. Tens, nay, hundreds of people were inside, looking desperate and determined. We left my national ID card with the man calling out the names of people whose turn came.

“It’ll be a wait of about 45 minutes,” he said nonchalantly.

I decided to save myself some time so I went to another section in the police section to make some copies of my birth certificate. Armed with a copy of my national ID, I entered the “birth certificate room”. The line was so long it reached the door. My driver gestured, telling me to go in anyway.

“I don’t want to cut in line!” I said in protest. I hated people who cut in line.

“No, no. This is the men’s line. You stand in the women’s line,” he said, pointing to a MUCH shorter line of women wearing colorful dresses.

It was probably the first time I’d ever felt lucky to have a uterus.

I stood in line and waited behind the noisy women, each one loudly chewing on bubble gum. Finally, there was only one woman left before me. She handed the man a passport and he started entering the contents into a worn out desktop computer.

“What name should I type in?” he asked, cigarette dangling from his mouth.

“Well, I don’t know!” the woman retorted, laughing loudly, “type in whatever’s on the passport!”

He stared at her in surprise. “You don’t know your own name?”

She laughed again, louder this time, and covered her mouth in mock shyness. I was starting to wonder if she was trying to acquire a fake identity.

To my surprise, the man laughed and gave her the certificates anyway. I walked up to him, trying to look as polite as possible. When he realized I wasn’t one of the flirting, gum chewing girls, he typed in my details quickly without as much as a glance in my direction.

Thank God.

Since I was the last one in the ladies’ line, he shouted at the men telling them to step towards his section. I walked out amidst the miserable looking men and saw a girl entering the room as I walked out.

I looked behind me; the room was now filled to the brim with men, standing haphazardly and unsure about which line to join. I looked back at the girl sympathetically.

God save your soul, fellow uterus.

I clutched my birth certificates to my chest, partly to keep them save and partly to keep my own chest safe amidst the swarming group of people everywhere. The man with my ID was still surrounded by people, and every 20 minutes he would call people’s names and it would be their turn.

I couldn’t find a place to sit because every possible seat seemed occupied by people who looked like they had been waiting a while and had nowhere else to go.

As I stood, frantically bitching on twitter about how horrible the weather was, a man elbowed me to pass. I lost my balance and almost fell, and he didn’t even notice.

Wow, chivalry really was dead.

And that’s when the tea man came in. Every two minutes he’d come out of this mysterious place no one could pinpoint with the tea and then go right back inside. I must have seen him do the same thing over a dozen times.

I waited for about half an hour, and finally it was my turn. I entered a small, depressing looking white room with two small desks and two depressing looking people, typing away. I had about six other girls waiting in line with me, and we each waited our turn.

Of course, one of them had to cut in line in front of me. But since I knew full well that this was not my turf, I kept my mouth shut. The people here wouldn’t care about people who cut in line –heck; they probably rewarded them for it or something.

When it was my turn, the woman at the desk took a very unflattering picture of me and then yelled “next!” without even a glance at me.

“When can I come pick it up?” I asked politely.

She stared up at me with one of the most hateful and bitter facial expressions I’d ever seen, asking “what?!”

I was offended. It wasn’t like I was asking for drugs. I quietly repeated my question and she looked me up and down in disgust.


I nodded and left the depressing room, stepping out into the hot Cairo weather once again. I had two more destinations to go; I needed to finish my errands without murdering anyone in the process. I was in a police station, for crying out loud. They’d arrest me on the spot.

“Tea! Tea! Who wants tea?”

But then again, what’s a few years in prison?