Egyptian timing runs very deep in my blood, or so I like to tell myself. In Canada, I was always a little late for everything - you know, that person who leaves home about five minutes before an event starts and gets there just fashionably late. Here in Cairo, I've been trying to be better about my punctuality because I can never gauge traffic - except on Friday mornings; those are sacred. I recently read something about how being late is a matter of not respecting the other person's time - written by a non-Egyptian, of course - and it brought to mind a particular situation with an Egyptian in Canada for whom I'd dropped what I was doing to go help with something. I sent the person a message to let them know I was on the way, and the response I got was, "Okay, just hang out with so-and-so until I get there. I'm a bit delayed and will be an hour late." I figure my five or 15 minute delays aren't going to be the deal breaker in a friendship, but I don't understand how people feel brazenly entitled to this authority over other people's time - as if everyone's time is completely flexible and 3ala mazag'hom. While that situation happened about a year ago and still irks me, I managed to find myself in another situation here in Cairo that absolutely puts it to shame.
Location: Zamalek. Time: 4 PM.
Knowing that I tend to be late for everything, and not wanting to catch weekend traffic on the way to Maadi for a wedding reception, I started getting ready early. This is quite the accomplishment for me, but save your standing ovation for later.
Location: Zamalek. Time: 6 PM.
I'm ready. I'm so proud of myself. I have an hour to get to Maadi, so I'll just finish this cup of tea (read: Jack and Coke) and call my Uber. Except, someone is calling me and offering to go out of their way to give me a ride - how sweet. Sure, why not? "Yalla, I'll be there soon," he says. I guess I'm not calling that Uber anymore; I'll just put on my shoes and wait.
Location: Zamalek. Time: 7:15 PM.
My phone rings, so I assume he's outside. "Hey, yalla get ready keda because I'm on my way over to you. No, no, don't wait outside, just get ready." I didn't have the heart to tell him that I'd been ready and almost out the door when he called an hour before. That's okay, maybe he was picking up his date from the downtown area and that's why it took him so long. Makes sense. I'll just wait - it's too late to call an Uber now, anyway, and the reception started 15 minutes ago.
Location: Zamalek. Time: 7:45 PM.
My phone rings; "I'm on your street - don't leave yet, but just grab all your stuff and be ready to head out." Bless his heart. I wait by the door until he rings me a few minutes later and I head out to the car. I look into the front seat, befuddled to find it empty as he opens the door for me. "I thought I was going to find your date with you!" I say, using surprise to cover the very obvious 'what the actual eff' feelings brewing within me. "No, no, I'm going to get her after." Well, at least he's taking me to the reception first before going to get her. I don’t know why that made any sense to me logistically whatsoever.
Location: Streets of Zamalek. Time: 8 PM.
His phone rings as he's driving, and he's engaged in a conversation with a friend and randomly drops it in there that we're about to go pick up his date from her place in the general downtown vicinity. What? Great. You're kidding, right? It's 8 PM and I started getting ready four hours ago so I could get to this reception on time! Serenity now.
Location: Approaching Downtown. Time: 8:15 PM.
After fumbling through Zamalek traffic and making it just close enough to downtown I feel like we were making progress, we stop. Why? Because now’s the best time to fuel up – nay, because we have to fuel up or else we don’t make it to Maadi. Fine; this is a necessity. All fuelled up and ready to go, my dear friend decides that he’s going to go inside, buy a pack of smokes, and go to the bathroom. In the words of my mother, “Min 7a2 kol mowaten yekhosh el 7amam,” but couldn’t this mowaten have gone to the bathroom during the fuelling process? *Sigh*
Location: Downtown. Time: 8:30 PM.
I don’t understand women. We’ve arrived at her building. She’s had several hours to get ready – at least the two hours between when he called me and when we arrived at her apartment. I don’t get it, girls; I really don’t. If you’ve had hours to get ready, why are you still keeping us waiting downstairs? On behalf of all men and timely women everywhere, why‽ Now that damn Jack and Coke I downed earlier has worn off and my makeup is slowly joining it.
Location: Streets of Downtown. Time: 8:45 PM.
Nezlet besalamet’ha and I’m both annoyed and relieved – we’re finally on our way! Wait, no, we can’t be on our way – it’s only 8:45! We can’t be less than two hours late, that’s unacceptable! So we stop along the way to do what I had thought was pick up my friend’s mother. At this point, I could’ve walked to Maadi and made it ahead of these guys.
Location: Elsewhere in Downtown. Time: 8:55 PM.
I don’t quite understand how this happened, but, somewhere between one stretch of downtown and the other, the plan changed three times. Long story short, we’re now waiting for his friend to meet us at his mother’s place and then we’re all going to go together. I gave up on trying to figure out why. By now, my mother is on the receiving end of trilingual messages that start with “Oh mon dieu” and end with “yalahweeeee!”
Location: That same elsewhere in Downtown. Time: 9:10 PM.
I’m pretty sure the couple is now off fornicating somewhere while I fester in a car with my friend and his date, not-so-patiently awaiting our departure. Not privy to much information, as I sit there and Whatsapp semi-profanities to my mother, I overhear a conversation in which I discover that my friend’s friend still needs to go ye7la2 before getting over here. I… Wait… No. El7a2eeni yamma!
Location: En route Maadi. Time: 9:30 PM.
Na3eeman ya habibi; can we finally get to the wedding now? That only took, what, three and a half unnecessary hours? They’re probably done with dinner now and the booze is almost gone.
Location: En route Maadi. Time: 9:40 PM.
Hey, those people in the car next to us look familiar! *Squints* Driving beside us were other friends of ours, also en route to the same wedding nearly three hours after it began. I get that everyone in Cairo is always late for things, but that’s usually on the account of traffic or a lagna, or because a karetta got in the way as they were driving through Zamalek. But, this? This was unprecedented.
Location: Maadi. Time: 9:55 PM.
We made it! We made it! And we’re only three hours late! No one died and no one etshatam (audibly), and we still managed to arrive before the buffet, in time for the pre-dinner dancing and booze. Ah well, at least there was dancing and booze. You can cue that standing ovation now.