Abraham is a 48 year old, twice divorced hotelier who opened the Castle Hotel Cairo in January of this year. He’s worked in hospitality his whole life: in hotel restaurants, as a bell boy, receptionist, all the way up to reservation manager at a resort in Dubai. He wheels and deals withe the best of them. He intentionally overbooked and then rented out private villas for the overflow which made both the guests and villa owners happy while mystifying his boss.
“I see you have 302 guests booked tonight.”
“But we only have rooms for 225.”
“How are you going to deal with that?”
“I have my way. Don’t worry.”
Abraham’s gift of gab and way of seeing solutions to every problem eventually brought him home to Cairo after a long career abroad, a half Uzbek son, an ex-father in law who loved to get him drunk on vodka, and an ailing mother.
Abraham’s mom died a few months after he moved back to Cairo and he was shattered. He was at a crossroads and decided to stay anyway and start his own hotel. He started a venture Radwa, a 32 year old single woman who smokes cigarette and refuses to cover her hair (both rarities in Egypts ever more conservative culture.) She designed the rooms. Ours had London and Paris architecture and the British flag all over the wallpaper. And he handled the guests through HostelWorld, booking.com, Expedia and Trip Advisor.
Abraham wants to expand the hotel. It’s on the 15th floor of an office building and in the adjacent building the corresponding floor is vacant. He’s trying to buy it. He’ll knock out the walls and connect the two buildings. He wants more guest rooms, a sitting room and a rooftop terrace and restaurant. He feels the call to travel but thinks he’ll stay in Cairo for the next five years until he can realize his dream.
Abraham has an older sister and nephew in Austria. It isn’t easy for Egyptians to travel outside the county so I suspect he comes from some money. He says he studied hospitality but learned English from speaking to guests, as most service industry workers claim. He nonchalantly points out the balcony to the empty lot filled with dump trucks and pipes across the street. He tells me there used to be houses there but the people didn’t keep them up so they got bought up and new hotels will go in.
With the proximity to the Egyptian Museum and the Nile River, I’m not surprised to hear it’s prime real-estate. He seems non-plussed when I ask him where the people who lived there went. “Away,” he shrugs, holding an unlit cigarette.
Abraham is the epitome of hospitable. Sometimes he offers thick Turkish coffee, which I deny in the evenings for fear of never sleeping. He tells a story about his sister who drank his coffee then sat on the couch all night wide-eyed with caffein. Other times it’s Pepsi, or slices of cold watermelon from the fridge. Once he gave me some of his instant noodles. He seems incapable of possessing food or drink without sharing.
He complains about housing priced in Egypt and the bad economy and devalued money. He thinks someone should do something about it but he’s not sure what and he’s not sure who. He worries about getting older, about how skinny he is, about smoking too much, drinking too much coffee and eating too little. But I don’t get the sense that Abraham is the type of man who is wont to do anything about his worries.
He wears the same clothes for the first two days we stay at the Cairo Castle Hotel. He tells me he doesn't like to go the 30 minutes back to his apartment. It’s too lonely and then he doesn’t like to come back. He’d rather sleep on the couch in the reception and let the breeze come in from the balcony or sleep in an empty room if they’re not full.
Abraham says he needs a hobby and that he won’t take a third wife. He 18 year old son only speaks Russian and Abraham has given up calling him because he only knows two questions in Russian “how’s schools?” And “Have you eaten?” He seems wistful for connection but tells me, “It’s a strange and beautiful life. You can never know what will happen.”