The last time I had sat for a passport photo, a frenzied Chinese lady in a tiny shop in New York City had pushed me up against a grimy wall and snapped a shot of me with her polaroid camera. Another woman in the back room had quickly processed the picture with her blow dryer. I was expecting my experience in Cairo to be similar, but I was mistaken.
I entered the store, and the photographer, a short man in glasses, ushered me up the stairs to the studio.
I was suddenly surrounded by giant teddy bears, magnificent armchairs with gilt wooden trimmings, corners of medieval parapets and lush patches of plastic vegetation.
"Sit down here," the photographer ordered, gesturing to a stool.
He scurried away. The next thing I knew, the lights had been turned off and two spotlights were illuminating my face. All around, white screens and umbrella-shaped appliances were either reflecting or producing light. (I clearly know nothing about photography). He positioned his tripod and camera at a 45 degree angle from my face and spent the next five minutes explaining to me how to tilt my head.
The camera flashed, and he dashed to the back of the room to fiddle with the backdrop. He finally picked a dark brown velvet curtain and said, "One more!"
"No," I said, unable to stop laughing. "No thank you. I just need the one."
"One more!" He insisted. "It's free."
He replaced the stool with a strange contraption, which I assumed I was intended to straddle. When I proceeded to do so, he shook his head violently and told me to rest one foot on the bottom bar and rest my crossed arms on the top bar.
I realized that I was posing for a glamour shot, and could not contain my laughter any longer.
When I was finally done with my photo shoot, he spent another fifteen minutes editing my visa photo with Photoshop, printed out 20 copies (I needed one) and one of my glamour shot, which he proceeded to frame. The brown background blends with my dark hair, so the picture shows nothing but my face, framed by darkness. But at least I'm smiling.