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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Epithets and Epaulettes - at the Telephone Company

We were back at work today on our project to obtain a landline telephone here in Cairo so as to obtain a reliable, high-speed and high capacity DSL data connection.

You may recall that last year, I was excited to see Telecom Egypt laying new wire in our neighborhood.  Lack of lines was our barrier to getting onto the network then.

Last year's trip to the local central office ("Centraaaal" is the descriptive term  in phonetic Arabic) yielded only the possibility that we could get a line after April.  This is the central office where we returned today.

A few differences from last year are in evidence.  You can no longer park directly in front of the building and a "sniffer dog" checks out all cars parking across the street.  What used to pass for a parking lot is now mostly occupied by a snack and beverage vendor to keep vehicles at a distance.   What a sad commentary on life in the twenty-first century!

We parked across the street next to a Betty Crocker delivery truck which brought considerable attention from the sniffer dog and his handler.  Linda pronounced the dog to be a good portion pit-bull.  He seemed quite friendly but not an animal you would want to challenge.
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Inside the office, there was new system in place to provide improved customer service.  Depending on what business you might be attending to, you take a number that puts you in one of three different queues.  Since we were looking for a new contract, we were placed in the z-queue.  Here the clerk at window 6 is serving ticket number 71 in the z-queue.  The female clerks wear uniform red headscarves and the guys wear red sweaters.

With two passports, our purchase contract for the flat and a very patient and helpful friend, we only needed about fifteen minutes to fill out all of the paperwork.  Warning: do not attempt this without the patient and helpful friend!

With our contract and new landline number in hand, we were ready for the next step.  That would take place at the Telecom Egypt Data central office about a mile away.  As we approached the building there, I noticed a mailbox and post office at a side entrance.  Of course!  The Egyptian phone system is built on the old French bureaucratic model of the PTT (Postes, Télécommunication et Télédiffusion.)
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The number of people waiting for service in the large first floor waiting area was certainly well over one hundred.  The number of chairs was substantially less.  Picture the DMV office at the Hennepin County Government Center at lunchtime.  Once again, having a wise and patient friend in charge is a must.  He got us a ticket for the correct queue and knew there was a nearly empty waiting room with chairs available on the second floor.

This time we were in the H-queue.  A computerized voice would periodically call out a queue letter and number and the window number for service.  I will now always remember the Arabic word for window, sheback.

After about twenty minutes of waiting, we heard loud shouting coming from the first floor.  Shouting (as we would call it) is nothing unusual here.  It just demonstrates intensity of feeling and is commonplace in conversation.  Consider it a cultural characteristic.  But this sounded more like epithets and accusations, so, after a while I decided to go downstairs and check it out.

An older gentlemen (meaning like, maybe, my age) was quite upset that people who had arrived after he had were being served.  He was accusing them of having paid to improve their position.  Two of the building security staff, with blue epaulettes on their shoulder and one policeman with black epaulettes on his shoulder were calming him down and explaining the multiple queue system.  The shouting and pointing finally subsided.  I am going to have to upgrade to a smartphone so that I can get pictures of such goings-on without being too obvious.

We eventually signed a contract (on about five different pages) for DSL service.  Now we just have to wait for installation.  --  Stay tuned!  Total time today from start to finish was around five hours.

1 comment:

Aliza said...

Wonderful post; your usual dry humor and vivid descriptions.