Wednesday, 19 November 2014


"Welcome to Hurghada. I can do anything to help you. You are simple girl. I like that."

"Hello? You need cigarettes? Watches? Scarves? Washing machine?? Fridge?! Air-conditioned donkey?!!"

Hurghada...where chat-up lines & sales pitches merge seamlessly into one.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Woman versus rat

The following morning dawned bright and clear. The only thing occupying my mind was the desperate knowledge that I had to do whatever needed to be done to rid my house of the scourge of Kamikaze Rat.

So I went to speak to my bewaabs, to ask if they could call an extermination company to come over, remove Kamikaze Rat and make sure there were no other unwelcome guests lurking in the house.

They were perplexed, to say the least. Apparently the normal way of dealing with rats is not to demand exterminators come and spray poison around your house. It’s possible – possible – that I was a little hard to reason with at the time. I do remember being very shrill. But then I did have a rat hiding in my kitchen.

The exterminators arrived, carrying a container of innocuous-looking liquid poison to spray around the house and poisonous food to place in strategic locations. They assured me that any creature that imbibed these would be dead within a day.

It wouldn’t die in my walls I asked, concerned. The last thing I wanted was Kamikaze Rat exacting brutal revenge by dying in some hard-to-reach place, effectively taking us all down with him at the moment of his demise.

No no, they laughed. He’ll die in an open space. If he’s still here, you’ll stumble across him on the floor tomorrow morning. And we’ll come back and remove him, at no extra charge.


They then presented me with the bill. An extortionate 6000LE. My eyes literally boggled.

Now at this point you’re probably sighing in exasperation at how someone could possibly be so gullible as to believe that this bill could actually be accurate. You have every right to do this; I admit to being an idiot.

In my defence, my fitful sleep the night before had been punctuated by rat-filled dreams. I was seeing rats everywhere I looked. Every time I heard a noise, I jumped, expecting to see Kamikaze Rat flying towards me as he had the previous night. So it’s fair to say I was not at my strongest or my sharpest. Clearly the exterminators could see this and had decided to take full advantage of it.

What could I do? I didn’t have that kind of money on me. The most my bank would allow me to withdraw in a single day was 4000LE. I explained this to the exterminators, who I still had not worked out were crooks. I told them I could withdraw 4000LE then and they would have to come back and collect the rest from my bewaab on another day. They, obviously sensing a flaw in their plan, were reluctant to do this. Nevertheless, we all descended to the building’s entrance.

3m Mohamed, our head bewaab, is a benign and grandfatherly man if you are on his good side; a proper force to be reckoned with if you are not. I had seen him get angry with people before (namely young guys harassing me in the streets) and he’s really not someone you want to cross. I could see his face set into barely-contained anger when I told him the situation with the exterminators and what they were charging me.

Torn I suppose between the desire to protect me and the desire to not contradict me in front of the men, he waved at me to go and withdraw my money, standing between me and the exterminators so they couldn’t follow me. By the time I returned he was yelling down the phone at their supervisor, calling them thieves and criminals, deploring the fact that they would pull what was now quite clearly (even to me) a total scam. Calling me over, he said that because I had already agreed to pay 4000LE, there was nothing he could do to reduce that sum but that I was under no circumstances to pay anything more. He passed the money to the two men with a gesture of utter contempt, motioning for them to leave and never come back.

So all that was left for me to do now was start cleaning the parts of my house that were definitely rat-free and wait for Kamikaze Rat to show up like the protagonist of an Agatha Christie whodunit.

I went off and stocked up on cleaning materials as if there was an imminent mass Dettol shortage, as if I was planning to clean an entire school single-handedly, as if the zombie apocalypse was coming, as if….well, as if I was expecting to come across a dead rat in my house.

And for a solid three days, I cleaned feverishly. I slept on the sofa (rats dancing in my dreams), went to work, came home and cleaned until 4am every day for three days. Every morning and evening, miserable and exhausted, I entered my kitchen with trepidation, expecting to find Kamikaze Rat spread-eagled on the floor. Every time I felt the mixed relief and sense of impending doom at him not being there.

Relief because, really, who among us is strong enough to deal with the prospect of a dead rat in their kitchen with equanimity? Sense of impending doom because, by the morning of day 3, a really very bad smell had started to emanate from somewhere within the kitchen and curdle in the air.

Merde merde merde. Not only crooks but liars. Kamikaze Rat was clearly dead in a hidden part of my kitchen.

So I asked 3m Mohamed whether, if I called the exterminators to come back and remove the rat that evening, as they had promised, he would be around to make sure there were no further problems with them. He was with me, he said immediately, sitting up a little straighter in his chair and putting his hand over his heart in a gesture of solidarity.

I called the exterminators who, surprisingly, sounded delighted to hear from me. Of course they would be more than happy to come back and remove the rat, they said obsequiously… and collect the other 2000LE I owed them. One short, violent reply from me and the conversation was over.   

That evening I limped into my building, wan and pale in appearance, bedraggled in spirit. I was having problems remembering the last time I had eaten or slept properly. I could feel I was starting to resemble the man from the Pink Panther films that everyone believes has gone mad, hallucinating rats everywhere I looked. I had scrubbed my house so thoroughly with Dettol that you could smell it as soon as you exited the lift three floors down from my flat. Everywhere except the dreaded kitchen.

Please, I asked the bewaab on duty, please send someone upstairs with me. If I had to start hunting on my own for a dead rat in my kitchen, I would lose my mind. One look in my eyes must have told him I wasn’t exaggerating.

The two younger men he sent upstairs with me were teasing, jovial. They could not stop laughing for the whole time it took us to get to my flat – expansive laughter that made their bellies shake. 3m Mohamed, in outrage, had told people the story of the dishonest exterminators and now the whole building knew about it, united in anger (at the code of Egyptian hospitality having been broken; in the eyes of most of the people I meet in my building, I am effectively their guest) and, certainly in the case of these men, amusement at me having subjected myself to all this drama and expense. For a rat.

“If you want to spend 4000LE on a rat, I’ll bring you a rat”, one of them joked. “I’ll bring it, I’ll take it away and you can give me 4000LE”.

Inside, they plunged into the rancid stench of the kitchen and, a few minutes later, emerged. The dead body of Kamikaze Rat was wrapped in a black plastic bag, as they held him with a kind of solemnity.

Forget Agatha Christie; this was pure CSI. This was the rat who had aimed too high in his pursuit of glory. He had aimed to be Splinter, sensei to the geckoes perhaps. Or maybe he had had lofty ambitions of living in my kitchen and cooking delicious meals, like the rat from Ratatouille. Either way, like an aspiring actress whose dreams are corrupted by the sordid realities of life, he had sipped from the poisoned chalice of the con-artist exterminators and all his plans had turned to dust.

Unable to resist one parting rejoinder, the more talkative of the two men turned to me as they were leaving. Waving the corpse of Kamikaze Rat in front of me with obvious glee he murmured “You know, if you were in the army….you would be eating him for dinner!”

Morals of this story:
1) A nice bewaab is worth his weight in gold. 
2) A gecko cannot eat half a potato.
3) Keep your friends close. You never know when you might need them to come and battle ninja rats with you. 

Saturday, 25 October 2014


“Lucy, you don’t think a gecko could eat all this, do you?”

It was a fairly innocuous question posed to me by my flatmate R one morning, as he proffered a half-eaten potato.

It was a question I had little trouble answering with a resounding negative, even halfway out the door on the way to work.

We were familiar with our house gecko, comfortable with him. He made occasional appearances, chilling in the bathroom sink, scooting across the floor in a flash if you returned home unexpectedly. Occasionally, late at night, you would look up to see him brooding on the ceiling.

He was an utterly familiar part of our day-to-day life, a known entity.

But, gazing on this potato, I knew immediately that we were dealing with something unknown and sinister. A force to be reckoned with.

I had, at this point, no idea of the extent to which my feelings of foreboding would be borne out by actual events.

A brief conversation confirmed that the culprit of this potato-theft must be either a cat or a rat. We live on the top floor of a 13-storey building - so our house attracts the heat - and R, a freelance journalist, often preferred to leave windows and doors open to cool everything down at night.

We prayed that our hungry visitor was a stray cat prowling around the rooftops in search of rogue potatoes to munch on. I recollect making a vague promise to myself that if any stray creatures turned up, I would find an alternative place to stay until they had been dealt with. R was going to Turkey for ten days; I couldn’t afford to take any chances.

Or so I thought.

R departed, and I spent Thursday evening at a friend’s house, returning to the flat on Friday late-afternoon. As I walked into the flat, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the cupboard to the immediate right of our front door, filled with odds and ends that do not belong to us, was ajar. I thought little of it, and went to sit down in the large, open sitting/dining room which is the focal point and heart of our flat.

I took off my glasses, without which I am as good as blind. Lost in thought, I noticed a creature of indeterminate (but significant) size and shape run down the stairs to my left and jump into the cupboard, with its door standing ever so slightly ajar.


Blind or not, I could see that our culprit bore the gait of either a rat or a ferret. It was larger than a mouse but smaller than a cat. It was brown. It was agile. It was here with me in the house while my flatmate was in Turkey for ten days.   


Panic stricken, I called a friend, Crazy Salsa Dancer. My high pitched voice no doubt said it all. “Whatever you’re doing, please, you need to drop it and come and help me right now. There’s a creature in my house!”

For 45 minutes, I sat immobilized, my eyes glued to this cupboard.

To his credit, Crazy Salsa Dancer not only turned up but brought a friend. Together, the three of us circled the cupboard like reticent hyenas. Opening the door, the two of them started poking at a pile of sheets and towels with the long stick they had brought as a weapon. No response. They began berating me; clearly the creature had run away. I was adamant – I would not rest until I had searched through the whole cupboard to make sure there was nothing inside.

So we erected a barrier, consisting of an old mattress, outside the cupboard. We started removing old sheets and towels from inside.

One sheet …nothing.

Two sheets ….nothing.

Three sheets ….out jumped a kamikaze rat, teeth bared, eyes flashing fire. It’s hard to tell whether he was actually a black belt in karate or whether I just imagined it, but in any case he expertly ricocheted off the mattress and ran into the kitchen – while I, as if burned by fire, ran squealing into the hallway.

It took ten minutes to calm me down, by which point Kamikaze Rat was trapped in my kitchen. A fruitless search by the boys, with the long stick, proved that he had either escaped through a hole in the mosquito netting covering the kitchen window, or was still in hiding. They had to go.

We barricaded the kitchen door like the poor veterans of the First World War barricaded the trenches. Cushions, chairs, towels – everything you could think of to prevent a Rat Escape. And, it being now 10pm, I could think of nothing more productive to do than go out, get drunk and sleep on the sofa. So this is what I did. 

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


The gecko and I
live harmoniously together
except when he jumps out of the rubbish bin
and scuttles across the floor
like a small

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Don't mess with Um Abdallah

A quiet Wednesday at work. I receive a series of phone calls from an unknown creepy caller.

My colleagues Hamdy and Mohamed talk politely with the caller, listening to his excuses for calling eight times in five minutes – I was sure this was my cousin’s number, etc – before telling him firmly not to call again.

Um Abdullah, in the background: “Hua kaddab! Hua ibn al k***! Hua 3ayez aih??!” ("He's a liar! He's a bastard! What does he want??!")

No question who I’m asking to answer the phone the next time I receive one of those calls.