Thursday, November 17, 2011

How much is there to tell while going to the office?

So today I pick up the gauntlet, can I create a sensible blogpost while my driver takes me to the office on Thursday morning. You should know that Thursday, traffic is not that bad, relatively speaking.

Yesterday a former colleague of mine passed away, for privacy reasons I call him Alex. Alex was an older man, but as I learned yesterday, not that old yet. In his fifties. Alex was suffering from many things, he was diabetic and had had a kidney transplant. When you would be in a meeting with him he would have a box with several pills in them. Sometimes he would be walking around with bandages on his feet, bleeding. Without being disrespectful, many of House's patients have the same symptoms.
But Alex was above all a very nice man who invited me on my first day in the office here in Cairo for lunch. On that first day Alex asked me if I wanted to come for lunch on Thursday, I accepted. And Thursday noon sharp I was ready. Waiting for him I sat at my desk but he didn't show up. I continued working because maybe we would have lunch at 12:30, but no Alex until 2 o'clock. He hadn't forgotten about our lunch appointment, but he hadonly a work related question and wandered off again. So I walked over to him and asked him about lunch. Of course we would have lunch, no he
hadn't forgotten about it. He would stop by my desk when we would go for lunch.
As the day went on, 2 PM became 3 PM, which became 4 PM and at 4:30 Alex stopped by and told me to wrap up things as we were going for lunch.
Ahhh, his English wasn't that good, so he said 'lunch' but meant 'diner'. No problem, early diner was perfect as I hadn't had lunch. We drove through Cairo and went to this very nice restaurant and no, I
don't recall the name of the restaurant. After enjoying the appetizers and some basic conversation his daughter showed up and joined us. Contrary to her dad, her English was excellent with a familiar
American accent. I explained the whole 'lunch vs diner' mixup and she started to laugh. Turned out that Egyptians have lunch around supper time and diner late at night. Don't you just love cultural

One other story I want to share with you about Alex is about the fact that he had his own unique way of telling something. Or rather he had a very unique way of articulation.
One day we were in a meeting about optimizing our End of Day processing, which is a problem in any bank. Alex had thought of a solution and was explaining. Concentrated I was listening to him.
Although he thought he was speaking English, it was mainly Arabic with some English words interspersed. Once he was finished he looked up at me and my other colleagues started laughing. Alex wanted to know what I thought about his ideas and even they hadn't understood what he'd
said. But the thing was that Alex knew what he was talking about, so his story was comprehensive and very coherent. His sketching was very much to the point albeit not a Rembrant, more like Picasso. The whole thing with talking with Alex' was to listen to what he had to tell and
not what he was saying, which is a huge difference. So when I summarized to him what he had been explaining, the colleagues were stunned that I spoke Alexian. But what I want you to take fromm this is that Alex was always trying to improve his systems and was willing to share his thoughts on this.

All the strength to his family and those he loved and those that still love him.

No, I wasn't able to finish this post while in transit. When I started this post I didn't know what it was going to be about. Once I started typing, I realized that finishing the post when it was finished was
more important then let traffic decide when I was done.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What really sucks in Cairo...

...isn't traffic.


You've guessed it already, I found some time to blog again. Lucky me and you dear reader.
Today I realized that the good thing about Cairo actually is something that it really sucks at.


"The weather?", you say. Yes, the weather. Let me explain. Although the sun pretty much always shines, it actually almost never shines the right way. From November untill April it doesn't shine bright enough and it's getting cold in Cairo. And from June untill September it's too hot. During this period the AC is turned on all the time, which is rather unhealthy and many people are sickish. And the humming of the AC is very dulling. On top of that, most Egyptians I've met turn the AC to 'freeze' and whole buildings feel like big giant refridgerators.

Interestingly enough, those AC are the only means of heating in many cases. There is no concept of central heating. Btw, there's no insulation of buildings nor double glass windows for that matter. So
as soon as it gets cold outside, its getting even colder inside. As if the buidlings in Cairo are designed to amplify the temperature. In summer the walls heat up and inside it's even warmer than outside, in winter the walls act like giant cooling elements and keep the apt cold even during the sunny day.
And using the AC to heat up the place is even worse than to use it to cool it down. And it's very uncomfortable. My Egyptian friends an colleagues agree and they just wear more layers of clothing.
The weather sucks in Cairo. Only in May and October it is actually nice. Temperatures throughout the day are comfortable, without AC. No rain, and seemingly less dust as well.

This is when the thing that Cairo really sucks at isn't the weather but traffic instead.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I don't like rain in Cairo because of the monsters


Traffic is bad again, worse than usual, so I have a chance to post a new blog entry.

Two days ago we had some rain. I didn't see it raining, but the streets were all wet, potholes filled with muddy water and the terrible condition some of the roads are in is now even worse. Oh, and people have told me it rained, a lot. So I guess it's safe to say it has rained. My driver told me that it might actually have been hail as well. Could be, I'm not sure about that.

When it rains in Cairo, the streets are flooded because the sewer system and the water drains can't cope with it. All year they fill up with dust, clogged entries as a result. And with the bad shape the roads are in, people drive very 'carefully'. Careful in the sense of avoiding puddles, not slowing down of course. I think that this is because of corrosion to their cars. The cars are not treated with special coating against water and moist. Because it hardly rains in Cairo.

When it rains in Cairo, the rain is heavy with dust. So the rain is actually mud falling from the sky. No kidding. And this is where the frustration of my driver starts. He has to constantly clean the car,
because there's mud on it all the time because of the rain. He cleans it, it rains, he cleans it, it rains, he cleans it, he drives through a puddle, he cleans it.

I don't like the rain because traffic gets worse so my trips to and from the office take longer than the usual 60 minutes or so. And I don't like it because it very hard to navigate to anywhere because I don't have rubber boots nor a canoe and the puddles are really deep. Monsters might live in them.


Monday, November 14, 2011

It will be a very disappointing month...

... for some people.


Regular followers of my adventures in Egypt have suffered considerably lately as I haven't blogged for quite a while.

I have my reasons, but that's for another post some time soon, I think.

November, as it seems, will be election month. I believe it's for the parliament here in Egypt. More importantly it is for many the first time ever that the outcome is really not predictable. Obviously
because the current government is just a peacekeepr for the army generals that have been ruling for the last decades. So unless somebody has rigged the elections, there's no telling what
the outcome will be.
What I think that will happen is that the turn-up will be high. Mainly because of the fact that everybody has for the first time since a very long time the idea that now it matters. "These elections your vote will actually count" is what some of my Egyptian friends have said to me. Before they wouldn't vote because that only made sense when you were pro Mubarak.

Both with this I think it important to mention that although your vote counts, a single vote in an 80,000,000 population is, by itself, not very significant. (Still you should always exercise your democratic rights.) But what I'm trying to say is that one as an individual might vote on party X, but that doesn't automatically mean that party X will win the elections or even gets a seat in the parliament.
So my feeling is that many of the 80mln here in Egypt will be facing that democracy has no real impact on their lifes because the majority of the population doesn't share the same feelings and beliefs.
In fact, the majority of the population had completely different motivations for a revolution than those that started it all. Money vs Democracy.

"The revolution might result possibly in democracy, but also, at the same time, to less freedom" is another concern one friend of mine expressed. He referred to the fact that a new democratically elected government might very well be very conservative and very much against a secular system. The revolutionairies will be very disappointed, seeing all their good effort go to waste.

In a democracy, the elected government may very well not be the one you would like to see. But more importantly, in a democracy, the elected government must be the government for all and therefore it should respect all equally and provide equal opportunity to all. Which means compromises are required, otherwise the democratically elected government will be killing the democracy once ruling.
There is no room for extremist beliefs in a democracy. So it is imperative that the new government will not keep all of its promises. And the naïve voters, which there will be many, will be disappointed
as it will seem to them that the new politicians are just as crooked as the old regime was.

A main concern here in Egypt with many is what will happen after the elections. Sofar there seems to be no tension at all. We're about 2 weeks away from election day, and it's quiet in the streets, relatively quiet that is. But the worry is about what will happen after the election. Will the army allow a new government? Will they respect the democracy even when it means they'll loose a lot of their current power? Will the people accept the outcome of the elections?

Am I worried about all this? Not really to be honest. The Egyptian people are a very mellow and very peaceful people. Yes there've been incidents since the revolution, but these have been incidents with
relatively small groups.
I am preparing though. Have sufficient water and soda (Coke, Mountain Dew and 7UP Diet) in my fridge. Bread and some frozen food that my driver made for me in the freezer, a new jar of jam and plenty of unplayed Xbox games and unread books on my Kindle. But I would've had this in any case.

I just hope that it will be the media that will be disappointed, because there will be no riots in the streets, no killings, no uproar... No 'news' for them to report.