Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
3 - 9 August 2000
Issue No. 493
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Allo, allo

By Fayza Hassan

Fayza Hassan I often marvel at how different things look after a good night's sleep. On this bright Thursday morning, I woke up full of energy and ready to get to the bottom of the modem/telephone debacle. I had asked a taxi driver who often takes me downtown to come for me at 8.00am. We would go to the telephone exchange before the crowds arrived with their complaints. Hagg Shawqi strongly advised against such an early start. I would find no one, he said, knowingly. "The big shots only begin rolling in around 8.30. They then join the workers who are busy preparing the salad and warming the fuul on their portable stove. It takes time to do it properly. After a couple of sandwiches, they have their tea. Only then are they ready for a first cup of coffee and the day's work."

I had listened to him and waited until 10.00am to start sparring with the director of the repairs department at the Maadi telephone exchange. I spotted no breakfast remains on his desk and noticed that his mood was sombre (indigestion?), although he welcomed me with extreme courtesy. After considering my paid bills and his computer screen attentively, he announced that my line had never been cut off, or else had already been restored. "And how do you explain that I am still getting static whenever I lift the receiver?" I asked him politely, taking into consideration that there were no empty cups of coffee in sight.

The director called an assistant and they conferred sotto voce for a few minutes, whereupon he decided that something was probably wrong with the external wiring. He would send someone to check the "box." I was slightly disappointed. At this point, I really wanted the exchange employees' malicious intent to be the cause of my problems. A simple technical failure was definitely not as gratifying, but I nevertheless thanked him profusely for his attention and went in search of Amm Dessouqi, who had often performed repairs on my line in the past. I did not find him, and was directed towards his colleague Amm Hassan, an equally amenable and experienced repairman, willing and able to fix whatever had to be fixed, as he put it himself.

I went home to await the results of Amm Hassan's efforts. Half an hour later, he turned up at my door looking rather mystified. He had checked the wiring and he was "one hundred per cent sure" that everything was in order. The trouble, he said, came from inside my apartment. He would have to examine all my connections. My head began to feel tight with anger. I did not want him to mess with my new modem, although I now remembered that, while setting it up, Mr George had unravelled the wiring, and that furthermore, a new wall plug had recently been installed in my daughter's study for her printer.

I decided to say nothing of these alterations and offered no clues to direct Amm Hassan's search. Let him sniff around, I thought; he will soon come to the conclusion that the problem lies with the exchange employees, who are playing games with the subscribers out of pure malevolence. He would be my witness and I would have my revenge.

Amm Hassan leaned out of windows and crawled around skirting boards. I imagined that his nostrils were twitching in a desperate attempt to smell the snag. But what if he found nothing and gave up? I thought in a sudden fit of panic. I should help him, I decided quickly. I blurted that we had just acquired a new computer. "Ah, the Internet," he said mildly. "You cannot use it if your line is faulty."

The search continued and Amm Hassan began exploring the balconies. Suddenly he called out. "What is this?" he asked, showing me a short piece of wire. "A piece of wire?" I ventured, bewildered. "Check your phone now," he directed me. The dial tone came through loud and clear. I ran to the computer. The modem purred and the connection was established at once. "A miracle," I cried. "No," said Amm Hassan, "someone stuck this piece of wire in one of your potted plants in the balcony. It acted as an earth-wire and caused all the static. You probably wanted to grow a small telephone there," he commented, with a short laugh. "Your line was never cut off at all."

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