Junior Geoff Bendeck, an international affairs major, will spend two semesters studying abroad in Cairo and Beirut, Lebanon. Twice a month, he will share his experiences and observations from the Middle East as one of GW’s many expats.
The first thing that goes through your head when you walk into the KFC in my neighborhood Dokki is not how long it will take for the food to give you a heart attack. The first thing you really realize is how quiet it is. Not an empty quiet, just an odd lack of chatter. The walls were lined with hand signals, the colonel and pictures of an Egyptian state fair I’m pretty sure never happened. As we saddled up to the counter to place our heart attacks, the gentleman manning the cash register had me point at what I wanted, fanned his mouth asking if I wanted it hot or not and pointed at the receipt to show me how much I owed. I was a little surprised; most restaurant employees in Cairo speak English. It was only when he clapped loudly to get my attention that I realized I wasn’t in any KFC. I was in the only deaf KFC in Cairo.
In hindsight, the markings on the wall and the silence was, well, explainable. Just not in words, English or Arabic. I found a few clues to the mystery on the wall near my table. Near several pictures of employees of the month, and the proverbial tack board rubbish, was a small boldfaced announcement of the grand opening of the first KFC in Egypt staffed by the “deaf and dumb.” Every single employee save the manager was hearing-impaired. This was a restaurant completely staffed and run without the exchange of a word. Yet, oddly, it worked flawlessly.
There is a system, an ingenious way in which one gets their food at the Midan Finney KFC. The professional KFCers have the routine down pat, and your first time ordering, like mine, can be both confusing and bewildering. But along the way, like in any foreign territory, you quickly learn the words that you will find most helpful. Some of the first Arabic you learn in Cairo is “shukran,” “minfadlak,” “bya kabira” and “imshee” – or, “thanks,” “please,” “big water” and “go away.” The first sign language you learn at the deaf KFC is a quick fan of the mouth: “I like it spicy.”
The American restaurant chain, which runs the deaf KFC, opened the restaurant a decade ago. Its general manager came up with the idea as a way to help the little-noticed deaf community in Cairo. For many, this is the first job they have ever had in their lives. They take pride in their work, and are quick to smile at any sign language you can muster. It is also a de facto hangout for the young deaf.
Maybe it is the novelty, but I often times wander over to the KFC. Not for the food, or even the wireless Internet, but the fun that comes with learning a little bit of another language and culture. Had I not wandered upon this neighborhood eatery, amid the quiet streets of Dokki, I would have missed yet another side of Cairo’s dynamic fa?ade. So, if you ever find yourself in Cairo, feel a little lost or simply want to practice your sign language, wander over to the Cairo neighborhood of Dokki to what might be the only deaf KFC in the Middle East.
This article appeared in the November 21, 2005 issue of the Hatchet.