When living in Egypt, there are two acronyms that help simplify the chaos and confusion of life: TIE and IBM.

TIE, a popular variant of TIA as used by a handsome and sweaty Leo DiCaprio in Blood Diamond, stands for “This is Egypt,” and can be used whenever something out of the ordinary occurs. Yesterday, for example, our bus hit a donkey on the way home from school.

TIE is a perfectly acceptable response to hitting a donkey in the road.

On our way to get our visas processed in Tahrir yesterday we spotted a man on a bulldozer painting a towering lamppost. (What makes this picture a truly TIE moment is not the two men in the bulldozer blade with the paint roller, but the man chatting on his cell phone at the wheel.)


IBM, according to Moustafa, is short for “Inshallah, Bokra, Malish,” which means “God willing, tomorrow, sorry.” This is a fitting acronym that is extremely applicable to life in Egypt. Inshallah is the proper response to just about anything, and bokra is tantamount to when hell freezes over.

“Will we get our work visas?”

“Tomorrow, God willing.”

Does it actually happen? No. Hence, malish.

This week, we actually did head down to have our visas processed, but it was somewhat anticlimactic. We boarded the bus and I was given a form to fill out with a small picture of my doppelganger stapled to the top. I say doppelganger because this was a photo of my face, but the girl in the photo had brown eyes and extremely dark hair.

We were then carted through over an hour’s worth of traffic downtown, where we hopped off the bus and ventured into the strange, backwards maze of Cairo’s bureaucracy. The upstairs was crammed with frustrated, exhausted-looking shells of people who occupied the bright orange seats like permanent fixtures. Some worn faces looked as if they’d been waiting there for days.

A man with a beverage tray struggled to forge his way through the unmoving crowd.

We stood at the opposite end of the hallway among a crowd of shuffling men applying for entrance visas. Most of us stood around reading while our school employees rushed around trying to get the proper paperwork. At least it was chilly out; this place is claustrophobic on a good day, and when it’s hot, it’s akin to being stacked in a linoleum-floored gymnasium among throngs of sweaty teenagers.

The single fan plugged in at the end of the hallway has the effect of a human being exhaling on his peers.

Behind the glass windows sit scores of Egyptian employees who sift through reams and reams of papers while sipping coffee. I imagine there might be an abacus beneath one of those wood-paneled tables.

We left without the visas.

“We’ll get them next week?” we asked hopefully.


The highlight of the adventure was a surprise side trip to Hardees and this conservative photo of the little mermaid plastered on the back of a van.

the t-shirt would be beneficial if she wants to get served in conservative restaurant chains. it's the no-shoes thing she has to work on

Today was the last day of the workweek for me (they’ve given us Thursday off as a celebration for our accreditation), and it was Egyptian Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day is a big deal here, as the flower sales and cards testified today. Down the street from our school, a preschool bedecked in balloons and streamers proudly painted “Happy Mohter’s Day” on its windows at the beginning of the week (and no one has noticed or corrected the typo in the time since.)

For the first time, I was the happy recipient of three beautiful flowers and two Mother’s Day cards, one of which suggests I’ve got a daughter coming my way and includes a congratulatory poem that concludes with the lines “A baby girl has come to you/ To make you feel happiness true.” I started the day by reassuring the students that I’m not a mom, but gave up halfway through. It was pretty sweet, and I can’t say I’ve ever been on the receiving end of Mother’s Day before.

To celebrate the three-day weekend, we’re off to the beach bokra. Inshallah.

Categories: Egypt

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