Friday, August 10, 2007

Paper Chase

I have been trying to organise the work from the Tentmaker's Khan to go to France.

I had to get a piece of paper called a EUR 1. My lovely and helpful French contact said it would mean we did not have to pay customs duties for work to be sold, and it would be at the Chamber of Commerce.

I tried to find it on the internet. Three sites, three addresses. I asked the friend who is the very efficient receptionist at the embassy to help me. She found an address, and a phone number, and the fact that women finished at 3.15 pm and men at 3.30.

I organised a car and headed for the place. The piece of paper gave a number on Falaki Square and I felt quite pleased with myself that I actually knew where this was.

I found the Chamber of Commerce. The day was not too hot. It was perhaps 34 at ten am but we had a bout of over forty a week ago and I was almost comfortable.

That was perhaps before three flights of stairs. I found myself staring a a lot of foot high Arabic lettering in brass. It was very beautiful against a cream marble wall but I didn't have a clue what is said. At least - I could say the work aloud to myself, but I had no idea what it meant. At either side of the stairwell long corridors stretched into a seeming infinity - possible aided by rather grotty and fly spotted mirrors. I had not seen that they were mirrors till I wondered why the woman walking down the corridor had such similar clothes.

I wandered for while and realised that all the occupants of the offices were studiously looking elsewhere as I walked past. I walked to a door and tapped on the frame. Two people looked up from their conversation. I asked about the EUR 1. They shook their heads, but one then walked me to another office.

A nice and older man in one of a circle of desks seated me, offered me tea, and took out a ledger. I rather assumed, as he flicked through it, that he would pull out the form and hand it to me, and I would thank him and leave. I was wrong. He took nearly five minutes, then pulled a sheet of paper towards him and slowly and laboriously started to write.

Ten minutes later it was done. He had copied one letter at a time. I had assumed - still - that this was to do with the form I needed. It wasn't - it was an address for another place to go to where I could get my EUR 1 form. He had written it carefully in English which he obviously did not speak - and I was sorry as my driver of the day was Egyptian.

I called my driver who had had to park a long way away and we headed for the next location. The address was clear enough, but when we got there - it could have been any part of two or three blocks. I walked loops around blocks - and it was now heading up for 36 or 37. I found the office space eventually on the side of an alley and with a grotty desk at the bottom of steep stairs. He immediately walked me outside the building and around the block again. We entered on the other side, and after some argument with another guard at another grotty desk we walked three flights of stairs in a humid and hot building and down enough corridor for me to realise that obviously he should not have bothered walking me around the building as we were now back on the original side.

I was shown into an office full of women where men in the corridor milled around a window with a cashier's slit.

It was really bizarre. There was not one thing on any desk. It was like an empty classroom without the clutter around the edges. Nothing on the yellowish-creamish-greenish dirty walls. It was HOT and airless and all were wearing heavy perfume so it was like an onslaught of ten different sorts of rock music, but olfactory, not auditory. There were no phones in the room or on the desks. No books. Not even ledgers - and these huge heavy books are loved in Egyptian offices and are everywhere. No fans. No computers. One woman walked slowly to the window, spoke briefly to a man behind it, took a piece of paper from him, then walked back to her desk, took a plastic biro from the drawer, and proceeded to fill out the form.

I was asked to sit beside a lady in pink with very large costume jewelery on almost any part of her that could support it. She was painting her nails. She looked up and said in Arabic " Two minutes please," and continued on the nails. I was a bit staggered that she could not paint nails and talk at the same time. She was very carefully leaving white areas over the moons and with scarlet polish it looked as if the nails had just grown out.

I can see this being a long post. After five minutes I was given a Eur1. The invoice was demanded and I told her that I did not bring one as I would fill out the sheet at home. Come back tomorrow she said, with Arabic. It seemed a big ask to become fluent overnight, but I think she was telling me to bring a friend. I had actually understood almost everything she had said - the problem had been trying to tell her what I was taking and I had covered that by ringing the stitcher who is accompanying me so he could explain.

This piece of paper petrified me. I had printed out a thing on the internet that explained how to fill it out - all five pages of instructions for three sheets of the form. There was a large area explaining that a correction made the form null and void. My friend in France who is our sponsor had said I had to itemise each piece of stitching on the form - and there were sixty to go in an area only twelve centimetres each way.

That night I typed invoices, made up an accurate packing list for each suitcase and totaled columns of figures. There will be some very happy men if we sell all this work. I did the maths on the commissions with the help of my Southern Cross quilter friends.

I got to bed at 4.30 am. By this stage I had looked at the form and decided I was too weary to tackle something that needed absolute concentration. I set the alarm for 6.30am.

Next morning, with Mohamed as my 'Arabic', I fronted up again. Mrs Nails scanned my carefully foldered and typed Invoice - with 60 itemised pieces and their descriptions (nine pages) - and then the form. She asked what the transport was. I said we would use a shipping company but it was to be organised from France, and I did not know which one. She wrote - in English and very badly in a great scrawl "by passenger in airplane".

Now we had just explained in Arabic that this was not the case and I expostulated! She crossed it out in large black strokes. She said it did not matter that she had just crossed out my carefully written form as it wasn't right anyway - it had to be done like everyone else, on a computer. I pointed out that a form with many small boxes on both sides all over the form and with small spaces for words was hard to set up on a computer. She said I could use an old typewriter.

I told her I did not have one.

She shrugged and said "There are many Internet cafes - they will do it. Anywhere!"

Now at this point I knew she had never used a computer because what she was lightly telling me to do was very hard - especially for me.

We gave up and left.

Next morning I went in, again with Mohamed, and presented her with a PERFECT form, done on the computer, and with the shipping company filled in. I was so proud - I had done it with multiple photocopies for checking, and holding up the printed test sheets over the 'real' form with the light behind to see that everything would fit exactly. The space bar had worked overtime, I had adjusted margins - I was thrilled.

She handed it back and said - "you have to do it again with the value less than 500 Euros".

Now there was no way I would lie about the value. This decreed the insurance value and I would need every cent I had listed to pay back the men in the Khan if the shipment was destroyed or missing.

She pointed out that if I wanted such a high value I had to go to another office way out at the airport and everyone else just changed the value. She could only authorise a small parcel - and maybe I needed a different form. I stuck to my guns and fought this one as the shipper in France was clear and specific and I knew he would be right. I was getting annoyed as I could see our time sliding away.

She shrugged, sat down, and took chewing gum from her handbag. The interview was over and I was a nuisance.

In the hurry to finish the form and paperwork and leave the house, and in my scrambled and exhausted state I had left my mobile and my ID card behind and could not go to the airport without my ID. The traffic was building up and the airport is a long way away. I go to England in the early hours of Saturday morning and Friday everything is closed. I had hoped to have the work collected on Thursday, and it was already too late to drive the hour-long drive to the airport and be at the office there by 2.00pm. It closed at 3.00, but they said they were busy and I had to be there at 2.00 to be served.

I had had an interim drama on my return to the house when I found that my house guests had been horribly gypped out of a LOT of money. They had gone to the bank to get the balance out as they had to pay the man who was calling to collect it - $680 for five vials of perfume oil. I was horrified and when they went to their room for a nap I went to the guard box and took back the money they had left, telling the guard to tell the man from the shop to come and see me.

It is all another story - but to cut it short - I was frustrated and angry about two very annoying days and that man really copped it! He was only the messenger so I rang the shop and blasted the owner too. My friends were charged almost six hundred dollars too much for what they bought. I kept the extra money and we handed it back. Bob will talk to them tomorrow and we may bring in the police. Worse - they were taken there by a guide from the museum called Moses who probably pocketed half the money.

This morning - early - Mohamed and a trusty driver and I went to the airport.

It took five offices! It took seven separate conversations and five hours. I rang France once and they rang me back once. Each conversation was grave and took ages.

Once office had a wall of men's backs about seven deep along a counter. Mohamed took one look and said "I will go". I said I wanted to try it my way. I drew myself to full height (not a lot at any time) and started excusing myself clearly and briskly in British English and they fell back like the parting of the Red Sea. Mohamed kept muttering "I never saw you like this. I am following a different woman."

It was not much use - it was the wrong office. I said that at least I was seeing Cairo and the men laughed.

At office number four we fell into conversation with two very nice men with very high piles of forms. At first they were not really wasting time talking to us as the seven women in the office were sitting around a table eating bread and ful (hot broad beans cooked to a spicy sludge) and drinking tea from large mugs. The conversation took twenty five minutes and I only followed a little, but the gist was that the shipper should do these forms, not us. "Look", said one man, expansively circling his arm, "how many ambassador's wives do you see?"

We decided to find the shipper only to find the numbers we had been given did not work. We had brought the cases as the shipper's address was at the airport. The mobile number worked, but the man on the other end was apologetic but not working for the company now. I rang France. My friend sounded worried but promised to ring us back. I also asked him to ask his contacts to warn the office that we were bringing the cases.

He rang back, we rang the office, and were setting off for Heliopolis with only me a bit concerned that we had been told to leave the cases at the airport branch.

Then as we turned through the car park I saw - just out of the corner of my eye - a neat and tidy and freshly painted office on a long string of grotty ones - and a sign which looked like the agency we were looking for. I insisted we loop back - and walked in to the smell of fresh coffee, and a young man with a delightful smile saying "Can I help you?"

It was like coming home after a long journey. He took over, the forms were done, we were given marvelous coffee, and he inspected and whisked away the cases. He sent my driver off to buy padlocks, and checked that they would go on the cases.

I could have kissed him.

At ten tonight the way bills arrived and all is well and wonderful.

We go to the Camel market in the morning, and will see our friends from the wedding and henna party a few weeks back. Then I have some work to do. Then we will pack. Then we have a party to farewell a loved Embassy member who will be missed.

Then - we go to England and I will be in Birmingham.

Back in ten days.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

One Very Small Egyptian

I have a dear friend in the tentmaker souq. He married last year, and is glowingly happy. He is a big and humorous man with the groove in the front teeth that indicates a love of the seeds so many Arabs adore. I often breakfast with them in front of the rug shop on Ta'amia sandwiches and mint tea or kakadeh. The sandwiches are always delicious and the company is fun.

All this year I have followed his wife's pregnancy with odd snippets from my friend. I have sympathised with her lack of sleep and her discomfort in the heat. I have laughed at my friend's descriptions of her cravings for odd foods, and wondered if I could offer help without offense when he detailed the vitamins her doctor had ordered in obvious concern. I have given him bits of advice about looking after her from time to time and marveled at how tender and solicitous he is.

She went to the hospital to be checked on Monday and they kept her in, saying the baby was imminent and the wrong way around. He rang me sounding worried next day saying things were not easy and he had gone back to work but he was grave and obviously worried. He said that all would be well as she was in the hands of Allah.

His best friend rang two days ago to tell me the baby had died. My friend had to choose between his wife and his son. I spoke to him and he was deeply sad. He said that God had given him this boy and he had taken him away.

He did not see the baby and did not want to.

I cannot decide if his deep belief in the justice of his God is distressing or comforting. I want to rage at the sky - this is a lovely lovely man and would have been a wonderful father.

If anyone reading this knows something I could do that might help please put it in the comments! I know the process for a funeral, but this little Egyptian did not really live, and I do not think there will be a funeral. I want to help but am at a loss.

I cannot imagine his wife's misery. I feel so sad.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Stitch like an Egyptian 2

I spent a day in Khan Khayamiya on Saturday. With my friend Mohamed Sadek, who will come with me to France as a stitcher, I went from shop to shop to collect the work selected for the Exhibition at Carrefour Europeen du Patchwork in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines.

As an indication of how hot '39 and humid' feels - I drank five cokes, three teas, two coffees and a large bottle of water. I don't much like coke, but it is always safe and hospitality is really a matter of honour so it is hard to refuse anyone.

All the work is painstaking hand appliqué. Some work is finer than others and the sizes vary. All the work is for sale in France. These are in numerical order from shop to shop - numbers allocated as they were collected - but they are not in the order they will be shown in.






































And one REALLY big so you can see the details and the stitching - it is actually about 1.2 metres square.


If you have come so far you have done well. I know you will agree that this will be just spectacular.

Just for fun - my household team - the residence staff who helped with the photography on a baking hot roof - for four hours!!

Meet Gamal, Maria, and Ahmed


Out of the Darkness and into the Night

I have finished a quilt for my eldest daughter's fortieth birthday. That was on the 25th May - I am running a tad late.

I am doing a 'sum up' blog - starting at the beginning and ending with finished image and some fo the details.

first - the grid and the starry sky(this is a detail)

Then the first lot of rocks - but it felt flat and background-ish.

I put in more and larger rocks in the foreground, and appliquéd silver lame shells around the cooler edges of the midden.

I quilted in other rocks and shells on outer edges. The moon felt too small and the red grid could have been desert - and I wanted it to feel a bit like water.

Desperately needed gold lame turned up and I stitched more shells into the hot centre. It was improving and things were warming up.

I really liked the metallic quality of the lame shells on the hot areas.

I enlarged the moon, stitched a moonpath into the water, and beaded the sky and parts of the sea. I bound it with a narrow deep blue binding only a shade lighter than the background heavy silk.

I think it is finished.

Happy birthday Karmen
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