Ikea is opening in Cairo in 2012, but I can’t wait that long for a desk -typing for hours while sitting on the bed or floor is not great on the back; also, I wanted to have locally made furniture in Siwa.
Since arriving I have been several times to the man who crafts from split cane all sorts of tables, chairs, grand double beds and shelving. Some days he wasn’t there. Last time I found him making a bed but with no other furniture in sight that I could point to and ask about, and we quickly established that he has no English and I have almost no Arabic. I went away and photographed the type of table and chair I want, and went back today to find him working on shelves, but with a stack of tables and chairs behind him, so I only needed the photo to show him that I wanted chairs without arms. I got a cost, and then attempted to buy a table immediately, but he explained this pile were to meet an order by someone else, and that I should come back in three days. Fortunately I remembered the Arabic for three days, and the rest worked out by signing, so hopefully when I return in three days my desk and two chairs will be ready.
At least I won’t have to put them together myself, and his work is solid and strong, so they will last a long time. The wood gradually changes from fresh green to the sandy colour that most things in Siwa are – the streets between the palms, the buildings, and the children’s school uniforms, which match the sand perfectly.
I have been snooping around the carpenters (there are several) and stores looking for supplies to build Habibi’s cat enclosure, and thought I had found some suitable wood today, only to be told by the young man in the store that the roughly rounded stakes of wood were actually handles for garden rakes. Stupid foreigner syndrome strikes again! I have found suppliers of chicken wire, so think I will get a carpenter to make up the basic frame, then do the wire and door myself. I carted hinges and a bolt lock with me from Australia, and while I have managed to find some here, they aren’t as sturdy, so I don’t feel so silly on that count.
I want to do most things like shopping for furniture by myself, even though I may pay a slightly higher price for being an outsider, rather than dragging Arabic/English speaking friends along with me. I don’t want to seem to be constantly expecting their help, and also this a way for me to learn more Arabic words. For example, with paper and pen and the Arabic word for matches (one of the first words I learnt, thanks to the high percentage of smokers in Egypt and because most cooking is with gas) I managed to find and learn the Arabic for candles, when I needed those and none of the store owners knew the English word. I just have to trust, of course, that the person who gives me the Arabic word is giving me the right word, and that I don’t end up asking for something totally inappropriate the next time I go searching for a candle…