Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Egypt - The Secret World that takes Visa

Dedicated to Tabbi, for her ruthless photo editing,

And the good people of Visa card, who have helped me fulfill their motto.

The hidden community within Cairo that takes Visa card is a world unto itself.

It's not as chaotic or overpowering as the Junk Souq, nor as secluded as the regions East of Bab Zweylah. It lacks the timeless qualities of the City of the Dead, and it isn't very dangerous.

But it is very pretty. And glossy. And thankfully, I'm only here for a few more days, because it's gradually getting expensive.

My normal ATM cards don't work here, and I haven't been able to withdraw cash using my Visa either. My supply of cash sourced through the social banks has dwindled to my necessites, so the few remaining things I desire have to be sourced through places that take credit cards. In Egypt, that's a big deal. The tiny "Middle Class" demographic between the poor and the very wealthy in Cairo can be identified by one main characteristic - they own a bank account. Subsequently, most businesses here function strictly on cash transactions.

The Visa world consists of the more elegant shops in the Khan. They're places that have elevators, and electric lights. By that I mean neat ones that consistently work. Their cash registers often look like real computer monitors, but one had a nifty retro machine that clicked up numbers like a sideshow shooting game. These shops don't usually advertise their status, like any good secret society. Others will merrily display the Visa stickers on their doors, then proclaim them to have just been there when the shop opened years ago. It's idiosyncratic, but so is most of Cairo. There's a curious lateral logic at work throughout this city. Once you've cracked it, it feels like a second home.

I've now concluded my purchasing, and it has been fun shopping with Tabbi. She knows when to point me at something and when to shove me out the door. I don't want to spoil suprises by saying what I bought yet. And I'm not yet sure what'll actually be coming home with me, as it collectively takes up most of the master bedroom floor. And here in the Residence, that's a serious floor. Expect no fewer than two huge suitcases at the airport.

The last few evenings have been spent with Tabs, finally getting a grip on the Grand Tour photos, diaries, and backgammon. It's been really pleasant just to see her again, and we've been taking the mickey out of numerous movies as we work. Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Anchorman, Airplane II, Love Actually, etc. She's off through Turkey, Russia and Eastern Europe for the next few months, so this has been a great opportunity to catch up.

Expect one final post before the Grand Tour concludes. As you can no doubt tell by the exciting material of this post, it's all coming to a close now. Administrative matters are taking over, and the real world is slowly seeping back into this distant and exotic life.


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