Only after you move into your flat will you truly appreciate the range of services that your bowwab (combination maintenance man and doorman – bowwabs are never women) provides on a daily basis. Most bowwabs live in the buildings where they work (typically in cramped, single-bed rooms on the ground floor). Many a night you will return home to see your bowwab drinking tea or smoking with friends, acquaintances or a fellow bowwab near the entrance to your building.
Your bowwab will arrange for garbage collection (there is no government-organized trash collection in Egypt), he will clean the building interior (not your flat, however) and he will arrange for any repairs needed in or around your flat. Most importantly, your bowwab will present you with all of your utility bills.
These are generally very small slips of paper: you should expect to see one for gas, one for electricity and a third for water. In many cases the figures will be listed in Arabic only, which should serve as further incentive for you to learn the language. Depending on variables like air conditioning and whether your water is heated by gas or electricity, you can expect to pay a couple hundred Egyptian pounds a month for utilities.
Until you develop a rapport with your bowwab, do not give him money for utilities without seeing a bill (say Eyez shoof hisseb and karate chop your right hand against your left palm). Similarly, you should not give money to anyone claiming to have been sent by your bowwab to collect money for rent or utilities. If this happens, it is perfectly acceptable (and smart) to decline by saying you want to pay him in person. The person at your door may or may not react well upon hearing this. If you are a shy about standing up for yourself, you should work to correct this quality before you arrive in Egypt.
Once exception to this rule is trash collection. The person who collects your trash will probably come to your door once or twice a month to request money for the service. As trash collection is arranged informally, he will not present a bill. It is customary to give him between LE5 and LE10 for his services.
Similarly, you will pay your bowwab a monthly fee in addition to your rent. This is usually around LE40, but you can adjust it upward if you feel so inclined. You should take care to develop a good rapport with your bowwab – he’ll be able to help you with everything from a burned-out light bulb to a cockroach infestation.