Picture this: you’re in a fancy restaurant, had one or maybe two drinks, nature calls and you have to go – um, powder your nose.
You hurry into the ladies room; you want to get back before those delicious hot bread rolls are served, you enter the toilet, lock the door, take the position of, ahem, powdering your nose, and reach out for the tissues that should be on hand close by – but nothing. The toilet is tissue-less.
You switch to emergency gear, scolding yourself for forgetting to put some in your handbag. When you unlock the door, there she is in all her glory: The human tissue dispenser, formally known as the restroom attendant.
She is standing with a quasi-malicious grin on her face and a look that says “Gotcha as she looks over a mountain of handmade-to-measure pieces of tissue rationed for the average nose.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Cairo’s public bathrooms.
And the negotiations begin. You just want to snatch the piece of tissue and hurry back! Your body is painfully contorting itself, suggesting in its body language your desperation and she is subtly denying you access to the white stuff with a powerful look that speaks “Hah! You just noticed me now? You thought you can just waltz into my kingdom, with your little dress and designer shoes and simply use the precious paper? You finally surrender and in a humiliated voice ask: “Can I have a piece of paper please? Bingo! The transaction goes through. You take your half of the deal, and run with it into the toilet.
You get out, wash your hands, and she dangles another piece of pre-cut paper which you have to accept again to dry your hands. Now, it’s payback time. You fumble through your handbag and seal the deal with a pound or two, and you are now free to go munch down those cold bread rolls.
In case you were wondering, there is an equivalent male human dispenser to service the male bathrooms. Just as to how annoying he is I can’t personally say, but I imagine the experience isn’t that different.
As the saying goes: Only in Egypt!
Being Egyptian, I know the game and find this equally annoying as it is amusing. On the other hand, the non-Egyptians pass through three stages whilst using public bathrooms.
Stage one: incomprehension: Why is someone cutting the toilet paper for us and handing it out when we are perfectly capable doing it on our own?
Stage two: translation: It dawns on them that there might be paper taxes to pay in Egyptian public bathrooms.
Stage three: after much annoyance and submission the conclusion is the ultimate transaction, a pound note for some tissue paper. Do not misunderstand me, I have nothing personal against those Bathroom Bosses, I just don’t appreciate what they do, it makes all Egyptians look like bathroom bullies to innocent expatriates and foreigners.
But who am I to judge? In a country where more than 20 percent are living below the poverty line, with increasing prices, the absence of a decent medical insurance and schooling, housing expenses to meet?
I understand that people need that extra income to be make ends meet, and as Machiavelli said, “The end justifies the means.
These men and women were hired in those institutions, whether it is a five-star hotel, a restaurant, the Opera House or even at the airport, as bathroom attendants but they created a job within a job to make the extra cash.