Hidden Grandeur

First published by Obelisque Magazine, Cairo, Egypt. Click on photo below to read article.  I would like to express my apologies for not including the names of Miss Nihal El Mogi and Miss Naela El Mogi – the daughters of the late General Salah El Mogi – along with Mr. Yousef El Mogi, son of General Salah El Mogi – in this article. Hidden Grandeur

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Reflections on Work and Life in Egypt Today

Here in Egypt, despite the ongoing negative worldwide media reports, Egyptians continue to work, live, study and play.

At this moment I sit around a large rectangular table with twelve Egyptian managers (6 women, 6 men, age 35-55) who are engaged in their bi-weekly steering committee meeting at Ipsos Egypt, the country office of the 2nd largest research firm in the world. Ipsos, based in Paris, France, is located in 85 countries worldwide.

These twelve young Egyptian professionals are skilled, educated, empowered and committed to their work, families, company and country.

As the only American working with them, I can say without trepidation that they are amongst the top professionals I have had the pleasure of working with for the past 30 years of professional life.

Not only are they competent, precise, effective, professional and ethical in all their dealings, they are also supportive and kind to each other. There is no semblance of back-stabbing or negative competition. It is a real pleasure to labor with them and I feel grateful to find myself in such a healthy and positive work environment. They get the work done, creatively and professionally and they laugh and smile at the same time.

Ipsos Egypt offices are located on the Corniche El Nil in Maadi, Cairo. As we participate in our steering meeting, we see the Nile River below us and the green banks of river on the other side remind us each moment of the ageless dignity and life in this marvelous country. We can see the farmers working in their fields, the donkeys carrying their loads, the water buffalo turning around the water pumps and again we are reminded that Egyptians continue to work, taking care of their small piece of this magnificent country, whether they be a corporate manager or a farmer, despite the turmoil Egypt finds itself in.

There is something so very real and romantic about this scene….something that the world news media never begins to understand or capture or relay. There is hope. There is resolve. There is endless love for this land, this people, this country. Something I have not seen or felt, quite like this, in any other country.

I see this hope and resolve and tenacity in my fellow Egyptian Ipsos colleagues and I see it in the farmers toiling on the banks of the Nile, outside our Ipsos window.

No wonder that Egypt was rated 4th most positive economic outlook, amongst 25 countries worldwide in the Ipsos Global Advisor, for the next six months.

The Ipsos Global Economic Pulse (a monthly syndicated survey of 25 countries) welcomed the addition of a new country: Egypt in Jan. 2014. Egyptians reflect notably positive assessments of their national economy (64%), raising the global aggregate two points (39%) and the regional aggregate in the Middle East and Africa three points (54%). More than half (54%) of Egyptians rate the economy in their local area to be ‘good’ while six in ten (61%) expect it to be ‘stronger’ in the next six months. After three months without change, the average global economic assessment of national economies surveyed in 25 countries inches higher this month with the inclusion of Egypt in the global survey. When asked to consider the current economic situation in their country, 39% of global citizens rate it to be ‘good.’ Without Egypt, the figure remains unchanged at 37%.

Saudi Arabia (86%) is the country with the highest proportion of respondents rating their national economies to be ‘good,’ followed by Germany (75%), Sweden (72%), Egypt (64%), China (63%), and Australia (59%). On the other end of the spectrum, a small minority (5%) of those in Italy rate their national economies as ‘good’, followed by Spain (7%), France (8%), South Korea (17%) and Hungary (17%).

So lift up your heads Ipsos colleagues because we have something to smile about.

Journey to SIWA

George Orwell was already dead by the time I even opened my mouth or picked up a pen or embarrassingly read his essays. I have just begun to observe what makes for a good essay. What age am I? Let’s just say I am ripe and ready to write. Finally.

 

My son and I sat in a public bus for 12 hours across the Sahara desert. We were the only ones who were not Siwan Berbers. I wish I could say we wound our way across the lush landscape but the truth is the road was as straight as the horizon. It had a slight bend. There was nothing lush about it, until we got hit by an enormous sand storm that totally engulfed our vessel and brought us to a dead halt. The sand entered every crevasse covering our view of the planet and our bags underneath. We saw nothing but white and then it passed. As quickly as it had come, the sun burst upon our senses.

Inside our vessel was adorned with baskets made of plastic, sod, striped canvas, a Sponge Bob doll hanging from the oversized bus mirror with an Eye of Horus dangling around his torso.

Our fellow mates aboard our sandship were occupied with sleeping and eating. Eating dates and pomegranates and salted pumpkin seeds and talking about their troubles with money and their children’s marriages and their government’s corruption and what one ought to do when one’s mother goes mad and her eyes roll backwards. They told jokes and wagged their index finger at each other imitating the scoundrel who was now called al rice the president.

Outside the desert was beautiful and monotonous like a Barbie doll woman.

The sky moved like a massive wave in the sea and clouds began to align themselves like soldiers on the frontline of long ago wars. The clouds moved at full tilt, as fast as their legs could carry them they galloped onto the Sahara and like greased lightning they dumped their lake, their river, their ocean, upon us without sacrifice. In a flash, the desert was flooded and again our vessel stopped, begging mercy min al donya the mother of earth.

In a swift instant or the blink of Horus’ eye the sun burst through creating a triple spectrum of light in-fractured upon the desert sand. We saw pools and puddles and seas of water gathered across the sandscape colored by the arcs.

We all gazed out the window in wonderment exuding ma shah allah – allah ahkbar. The water on the road dried up and moved and disappeared in moments and our vessel moved on. Two more times during our voyage the gods flashed upon us and the Sahara became a great ocean for minutes.

After many hours of sleep and eating and reading and card playing we left the straight road and existed on to a much smaller straight desert road that head south to the Oasis of Siwa, the largest oasis in all of Africa. It was there that the great pharoah Akhnaton, the inventor of monotheism, built a temple to the one and only god Amun Ra, the god of the Sun, the god behind all the other gods, the god of gods, the only god.

He built the temple in the most auspicious of places in the very center of this magnificent miracle of an oasis that comprises hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of date palms, thick as my son’s hair. Hundreds of natural hot springs venture up from the depths of il donya.

Upon our metal horses we cycled for hours between the palms and lands and springs. We shedded our clothes and bathed in the bath of Cleopatra and Anthony, where in love they bathed in preparation and cleansing to pray in the temple of Amun Ra.

In the evenings we ate Berber delights by the fire of our temporary home, the Shali Lodge. There my son played with the fire for many hours, feeding it, rebuilding it, throwing salt rocks into her mouth and catching the sparks in his eyes. There his mind was at peace, there was no talk of Ed Snowden or wiki-leaks or drones. There was peace. There were kind Berbers feeding us from their souls and their handmade bread.

There in Siwa we were one with the earth, the soil and sand and dates and palms. Our home was made from the earthen clay just as we were made. Our window shutters made of palm wood with elaborately simple latches that turned and held tight in our minds. We slept on cots made soft by the palm leaves and downy silken Egyptian cotton bedding that embraced us fully.

We didn’t speak profoundly. We just lived. We saw. We smelled. We tasted. We felt all that was Siwa.