If you’re going to go to Ikea, pick a time when it’s not busy. In Egypt (and most of the Middle East, I assume), that time is Friday mid-morning, before prayer. Friday is the holy day here, and is celebrated by Christians and Muslims alike. Most people sleep in leaving the streets bare and ghost town quiet. It’s a good time to go shopping at major stores and malls like Carrefour or Cairo Festival City (CFC), but don’t expect the corner shop to be open.
Therefore, at 11 am on Friday, I took a taxi with some new co-workers to Cairo Festival City to go shopping. As with the last time we came to CFC, it took the driver five minutes to figure out how to enter to the mall parking lot. There is plenty of parking, but most of it is blocked off, and no one really knows why. The cab driver finally determined that taking us directly to the door of Ikea was not an option, so he dropped us at the nearest entrance and we wandered through the mall to get there.
Upon finding the entrance to Ikea, the four of us set out to kit out our apartments and classrooms with stuff. We bought storage bins, butcher paper, blankets, cutting boards, curtain rings, candles, and more. The place was practically a ghost town it was so empty. It was even a little eerie at times. That didn’t stop us from making jokes about the items for sale.
There is a debate among expats over purchases at places like Ikea. Many expats, and certainly most teachers, are living abroad on temporary basis. Therefore, is it worth buying a decent bed, a sofa, or even just matching curtains, if you’ll be leaving in a year or two? I’m cheap, so I deal with mismatched dishes, not having a coffee table, and use cardboard boxes as my storage bins. If I can’t pack it in my suitcases at the end of my stay, then it’s not worth buying.
The other side of the argument is that if something is going to make your life significantly better while you’re here, buy it. I call these Quality of Life purchases. Will hangars in your closet make life easier? Yes. Does it matter that they’re 30 LE, and you’ll definitely have to leave them behind? Nope. Hangars make life better, so I buy them.
There are some purchases that I end up making everywhere I go, like measuring cups and spoons, and knives. Finally, I got wise this summer and spent a little extra money on good quality measuring equipment and a decent chef’s knife and paring knife. I carefully packed them in my checked luggage and I haven’t regretted it. Sure they were a little more expensive and added weight to my suitcases. But in the long run, I’ll be happier in my new home with decent cooking utensils. Quality of Life purchase.
Art is a funny part of that though. Art can make a cold apartment feel homey and if you find the right stuff, it can make all the difference. Some of the art at Ikea, is cool, other stuff is just silly.
At 1:20 the Muzak coming over the loudspeaker stopped and we heard the call to prayer broadcast through the whole store. For us westerners, it didn’t really faze us and we kept shopping. It only affected R the third grade teacher. At the register she discovered that she had mistakenly taken a display blanket, and couldn’t purchase it. She asked the clerk if there was a guy who could run and grab another one for her, only to hear “No, they’re all at prayer right now.”
The four of us still got hot dogs (chicken shwarma for me) and ice cream cones after shopping. The kids behind the counter not seeming put off by missing prayer to sling food. As we left the building to find a taxi we saw a stream of men and women in Ikea uniforms coming up from the basement area. It seems prayer time was over and the rest of the workday could continue.
I do wonder if the employees who work during prayer get a special break later in the day to pray. And how does the company determine who can pray on a Friday shift and who has to stay and work the register or food counters?
One thing is for sure, you don’t want to go shopping on a Friday AFTER prayer. Everyone and their mother is doing the weekly shop and it’s a madhouse. It’s often the only day off that both parents get, so they use the time to make major purchases.