For those searching for an apartment in Al-Qahira (Cairo), follow these simple steps:
- Pick a neighborhood. Wander down its streets, asking each bawaab (doorman) you pass if there’s an available apartment in his building. We easily spoke with at least 50 or 60 bawaabun (plural) this week. There aren’t really any apartment listings, and those that do exist are mainly for expensive flats for foreigners.
- When there’s an open place, head upstairs and check it out. We checked out about 13 apartments, and by the fourth or fifth we knew exactly what we wanted: three bedrooms; a nice kitchen, bathroom, and sitting area; natural light; and girls allowed.
- Sit down and negotiate the price. As per “Egypt time,” this might take a while. A cup of tea sometimes appears before you, seemingly from nowhere.
- Ask whether it’s OK to have “friends” over to “study” and “eat dinner.” Imply that these friends could be girls. Then have the landlord/bawaab/random person in the apartment intimate that: (1) there are religious neighbors, so you can’t have any girls; (2) they don’t want their reputation ruined, so you can’t have any girls; or (3) you just can’t have any girls. If you’re lucky, banaat can come over but not stay the night. We found a great place with a Nile view, but no banaat (girls) were allowed because of the mutadayineen (religious people) next door. It’s amazing how people feel threatened by what’s going on in other people’s homes – particularly when the perception of pesky, Western sexual debauchery is involved. The public and private spheres clash here to a degree unknown in America.
- At all costs, avoid using a simsar – kind of like a real estate broker who just chills around a certain neighborhood and serves as the middleman. They take a cut of your first month’s rent if you end up taking an apartment they show you. They’re pushing and annoying and waste lots of your time.
- Once you find a place, go through the contract, sign, and move in! Ilhamdulillah you have an apartment!
Some observations from the search:
- Almost all apartments come fully stocked with furniture and kitchenware.
- Once you’ve talked to enough doormen, word spreads through the streets about your intentions. Simsars approach you from all over, as do various people who have a cousin or a neighbor with an open place. People help each other out, hoping to get a cut and make a little cash on the side.
- Trying to circumvent the craziness of the process doesn’t work.
The best part: It’s only $200 per person per month, including utilities! Welcome to Masr.