This morning I went to the kiosk across from Future TV in Sanayeh to buy a recharge card for my pre-paid cell phone. There was an MTC Touch sign outside the kiosk, which usually signifies that the charge cards are on sale, and that the establishment is an official vendor. I popped my head inside and asked to purchase a 40-unit card for 20-day usage. (One can either purchase a 23$ card which expires after 10 days, a 33$ card for 20 days or $46 for 30 days.) Anticipating the usual transaction of purchasing a plastic-wrapped scratch card with a 13-digit pin number, I was surprised that instead the man inside the kiosk signaled for me to follow him to the back of the kiosk, out through the back door, across a parking lot and into an office. There he sat down at his desk, handed me a gardenia flower, and made some phone calls. He then jotted down a 13-digit pin number and reassured me that I could use it for 20 days. When I entered the pin number, the phone display told me that the charges were only good for 10-days. I pointed this out to the man, who got back on the phone and shouted at a woman, and then said that the charge was good for 15-days, a denomination that is not offered by the phone company.
I told him that the computer of the phone says the card expires in ten days, that this is of no use to me, as I won’t use all the units in ten days and that this is not what I asked for.
There were two other men in the office and a secretary who kept shaking her head behind the man’s back. She smiled at me, and rolled her eyes, in solidarity, I imagined. I was getting progressively angrier that this was costing me so much time. I told the man that if he doesn’t have the product on sale that I asked for, he could have just said so, and that usually I purchase a card and know what I’m getting. The first man countered that the charge was now on my phone and that I had to pay; I said I would not. He grabbed my cell phone and said he wouldn’t give it back. I told him I would go to the police. He stood up and shouted, “Go to the police!”The other two men tried to cut a deal where I would pay only 16$; I refused. I started to draw a graph of when I use my units and explained, half in English, half in Arabic, that I would not make use of the charge in the ten days before they expire, because I was leaving for business in Syria and Jordan (which of course is not true). And then all three men were standing and yelling at me and I lost the last inkling of patience, much to the amusement of the secretary. I called the first man who was still clutching my phone a liar and a crook, I tossed the flower he had given me at the beginning of our transaction across the table, I flailed my arms. I eyed a stapler and stack of business cards on the table, and considered throwing those, too. Finally one of the two other men grabbed my phone from the other man’s hand, placed it in front of me and shouted that he would pay for the charge. This of course was an invitation for me to decline the offer, and to pay. I quickly took the phone and bolted. He shouted, “Tikrameh!” (You’re welcome) after me; I barely turned my head and shouted back, “Islamo” (thank you) and “Allah ma3ak” (God be with you). Back at home I used my $20 dollars of free units to call a friend and tell him this story.