I have long suspected that I am living in a Man's World. The evidence is all around me, I see it every day. Men do everything that involves being seen in public; they wait on tables in the coffee shops and restaurants, own and work in the shops, make the bread at the bakery, drive the buses and taxis, operate checkouts at larger stores, manage reception at hotels or anywhere else that needs this facility, do the cleaning jobs anywhere public - in short they are everywhere. When they're not working you can see them sitting in the coffee shops enjoying tea with shisha (water pipe or bong) and/or cigarettes. And it's only men. Yes, just men. You don't see the women out and about getting on with their lives. Occasionally you will see a woman shopping for food but that's about as much as you get.
That said, as a woman I wouldn't want to sit in the same coffee shops the men use. They seem oblivious to the dirt, dust and rubbish all around them. The coffee shops are generally very grubby and badly decorated with questionable hygiene. I shudder to think what can be caught from a glass of tea. Please don't imagine that glasses are actually properly "washed up". They have to make do with a quick swill in cold water from the tap (i.e. not filtered and not guaranteed clean water), a short shake and then back into service for the next customer. The seats are less than comfortable wooden dining chairs and the "tables" are a small square of metal, just large enough for a glass and an ashtray, welded to a wrought iron stand.
However, in the more touristic locations things are changing slowly. We can see the introduction of very nice coffee shops with large, air-conditioned indoor seating areas, comfortable seats, nice tables and an apparent improvement in basic hygiene. These are places that actually feel inviting where you can pleasantly spent quite a while. Some of the seating is so comfortable you really don't want to leave.
Then there are those in the middle. From the outside they look like the better ones described in the previous paragraph but, deep down, they are only dressing up the more 'traditional' places described at the beginning of this piece. So as you pass by you think how nice it would be to sit and enjoy a leisurely cup of tea and you are lulled into a false sense of security.
I found this out myself when I decided to spend the day back near my old home about 150kms from where I live now. My old flat looked out over a small square with a 'typical' coffee shop just across the road and a more modern one on the other side of the square.
My ex neighbour had called me a couple of days before suggesting that when I have a day off I should go for a visit. I had the day off so made the journey.
You have to know my ex neighbour is a really nice person but he has a problem - or rather two. His first is with his ego. Everything is about him but deep down he really would do anything for you if he likes you. His second is with alcohol. He lives a lifestyle where he often goes to bed around 4am or 5am, usually after an evening out where he drinks far too much, and doesn't get up again until around 5pm or 6pm and woe betide any who wake him earlier.
So, having arrived nearby before he was likely to be out of bed I decided it was best not to disturb him. I just had the slight problem of being "caught short".
Now, this country where I live is not renowned for the provision of public toilets. You mostly only find these at major tourist attractions where there will be someone 'on guard' to take 1LE (about $0.06/€0.075/£0.09) in return for which you will receive 2 squares of very flimsy toilet paper and be shown into a small cubicle full of rubbish that somehow missed the bin and smelling like it hasn't been cleaned or flushed for quite some time. It will also be full of flies. Certainly, in this neighbourhood you can forget any idea of public toilets. But, after 2 cups of coffee plus a glass of juice and about 2½ hours travelling I was desperate.
My only hope was a bar or coffee shop. There are no bars nearby so had to go for the coffee shop option.
I knew it would be no good trying the 'traditional' outlet as they probably didn't have any toilet facilities at all so opted for the newer version on the other side of the square.
This place certainly looks very pleasant. The sun was shining and the chairs were comfortable. I put my bags on a chair and sat on the sofa alongside. I waited and waited but, even though there were customers (all men) no-one came to ask what I wanted. I had decided to order a drink and then find the toilet so it didn't seem like I was there only for the facilities. However, I was getting more desperate by the minute and could wait no longer. I could see the sign for "WC" with an arrow below it so picked up my bag and made for my salvation.
I reached the sign and looked in the direction of the arrow thinking, 'this can't be right'. The arrow pointed to a very dirty, ragged, old curtain that hung across an opening from about 1.7m high and stopped at around knee level from the floor. Everything here was really filthy - walls, floor, ceiling - and there was a certain smell hanging in the air. Wanting as little contact with this mangy curtain as possible and frightened it might actually be alive and able to bite me, I used just the tip of 1 finger to move it back to see what was behind.
I had found the WC alright. The "toilet" in this establishment consisted on a single urinal that may originally have been white but was now a sort of grey colour and placed so high up the wall I had the impression only giants could actually use it. There was no connection for a flush and nowhere to wash hands afterwards.
I'm sure you can imagine how I felt - a mixture of exasperation, desperation and disappointment. What a good job I hadn't actually ordered a drink first. If only I'd been a man I could have happily ignored the grime (they obviously must do) and relieved myself but it was not to be.
This surely is a man's world!!!!!
Fortunately, being near to a tourist area I did manage (just) to make it to a new tourist-friendly coffee shop with modern toilets where, after using the services FIRST, I sat and spent a very pleasant couple of hours before continuing to visit my ex neighbour.