This is the tenth in a series of repeated posts (e.g. published elsewhere before) from outside of China, detailing the start of my expatriate life. There will always be a post a day about China so if you’re not interested in other material – you can stop reading now.
I am being sent to Egypt! Which sends tremors of joy and horror simultaneously through me. This is the land of the pyramids and the sphinx, and with just a bit of luck I will go and see them. However it is also the land of obscene stinking poverty and I am worried that this will upset me.
All my doubts however are overcome by the company’s expense policy, where in Dubai it is simply ridiculously generous, abroad it is obscene.
They will pay for the flights (obviously), 5 star hotel accommodation, all travel and business expenses (claimed after the fact) and on top of this give me 400 GBP (British squids to you) a day in spending money! This is true whether or not I spend a single penny. I ask if I can stay longer than a week and they laugh, a little too hard for my liking.
The flight out is a disaster, I am flying with my immensely likeable (if a little bossy) Egyptian colleague who is a devout Muslim. Ten minutes in the air and I open a bottle of red wine, a stewardess comes bowling down the aisle, smashes into me and sends red wine everywhere, over my white shirt, my suit and my colleague, who is not in the slightest bit amused. Fortunately he forgives me quickly and picks on the stewardess incessantly for the rest of the journey.
It is packed, stinking, and the ignoramus in front of me has his seat so far reclined I cannot see the in flight movie or read a book, I cannot recline my own chair because the bloke behind me has a broken leg and I would have to re-break it to move my seat.
We arrive in Cairo to chaos, you have to buy a visa on arrival if you are a UK citizen, but they only want paying in dollars. I have Egyptian pounds and UAE Dirhams and British pounds and Euro but no dollars, a row kicks off between me and the vendor and as it appears I may have to kill him and bury him under the tarmac, a rep from our hotel arrives and begins shouting at him in Arabic. This does the trick and a visa is produced in exchange for Egyptian pounds. The visa is an enormous great sticker rather than two rather cute postage stamps that used to be issued; it takes up a whole page in my passport.
We then proceed to immigration, Cairo is unique in that it’s immigration department are hidden in big green steel huts that make you feel like you are being sent to Guantanomo rather than entering the birthplace of civilisation. You give them your passport and boarding card, which disappears for what seems like an hour, you are then sent to another hut to reclaim them. If you are lucky they have even stamped your passport. They have but – the bar stewards have used another page for this rather than using the visa page. Aaarrgghhhh. This is why I have used up a 48 page passport in no time at all, mean folk at immigration who seem to delight in despoiling a virgin page rather than using some space on an existing one.
Then it’s off to baggage reclaim, where dozens of people fight over the bags whilst smoking like chimneys, this cheers me up and I spark up. To be instantly told by an officious fellow passenger that smoking is forbidden, I tell him to come back to me once he has made everyone else aware of this, and he scowls at me and leaves.
I wrestle my bag from the hands of an Egyptian “helper”, which in any other country would be known as a thief, and follow the rep and my colleague to the mini bus. Which is tiny. Smaller than a motorbike, I am a big bloke and am therefore destined to spend the whole hour and a half journey folded in half with my nose resting on my genitals. The only good thing about this is I do not have to watch the traffic.